Marriage in Government Policy — [Mr Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 9:50 am on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 9:50 am, 30th January 2018

I agree; I have faced many similar cases in my constituency office. I look to the Immigration Minister and her Department to be fair and allow for some flexibility in the process. To be just a few pounds short is frustrating. We have a system to work within, but we make our cases on behalf of our constituents and their wives and spouses in other parts of Europe, the United States, Africa and even further afield in the far east. The difficulties are around financial contributions, so we need a flexible Government and flexible policy. That is not this Minister’s responsibility, but it is another’s.

As I have said before, the case for change is compounded by the fact that the Government spend more money on supporting marriage through the much more generous married couples allowance than they do through the new marriage allowance. The married couples allowance applies to married couples in which one or both spouses were born before 6 April 1935, while the new marriage allowance applies to one-earner married couples on basic income tax. While £245 million was spent on the married couples allowance, just £210 million was spent on the marriage allowance during 2015-16. The former can reduce a tax bill by between £326 and £844.50 a year, but the latter does so by only up to £230 a year. That is a help, but it does not fulfil the aim. It is important to have those facts and figures on the record in Hansard so that we can see where the differences are and where we need change. I hope that others agree.

It is absolutely right that we recognise the public policy benefits of marriage for adult wellbeing at all ages. However, given the special benefits in relation to child development, it seems strange that we should afford the marriages of couples in their 80s and 90s, whose children left home long ago, greater recognition than those in which the public policy benefits could reach both adults and children.

We need a system that addresses families and children rather than those who are long past that stage. In that context, the Government should introduce a fully transferable allowance and pay for it by reducing its scope to married couples with young children. That would do away with the problem of low take-up by ensuring that the allowance is really meaningful for those who are eligible. At the very least, the marriage allowance for those with pre-school children should be increased so that no marriage of a couple in their 80s or 90s is recognised more—and not, indeed, by £844.50—than that of a couple with young children. Rather than just spending the same sum on a reduced pool of married couples, we need some change in the system.

I briefly referred in the Chamber, during the Budget debate, to the ComRes polling from last November; this is for those who follow ComRes and perhaps fill in their forms whenever they come. The poll demonstrated that increasing the marriage allowance is much more popular, with 58% support, than bringing in yet further increases in the personal allowance, which got 21% support. If we are looking for something that is more acceptable to the general public—we need to be conscious and cognisant of that—here is a simple system.

The cost of the further projected increases in the personal allowance to £12,500 is £4 billion, the majority of which will go, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has demonstrated, to those in the top half of the income distribution. By contrast, any increase in the marriage allowance would disproportionately benefit those in the bottom half of the income distribution.

If we take away housing benefit from couples who get married, and reduce working tax credit for families who marry and move in together, we make it less appealing for people to make that final commitment. We have outlined the social benefits of marriage, and the Government should feed something into that and make it more attractive for people who love each other and are in a committed relationship to marry. That is what my heart as well as my voice says, and what would benefit families and communities throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister seriously to consider the issue of the marriage allowance and how to achieve what we set out to do in putting that in place. Many in the House, including many of those present for the debate, think the same.