Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Rewarding the wrong behaviour

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that children thrive best and achieve most when they are brought up in a stable relationship. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that the primary responsibility for nurturing and bringing up children rests with the parents. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that the role of the state isn’t to support parents in fulfilling those responsibilities.

I believe that the last Labour government’s policies were entirely in line with those statements. In fact, I can’t think of any policy which that government pursued which ran counter to those views.

The introduction of the minimum wage and working families’ tax credits – and real-terms increases in child benefit - were primarily aimed at supporting families and produced dramatic improvements in the incomes of many families, helping them to be self-sustaining. Sure Start was all about helping parents to do the best for their children.

So, as the current government is making significant cuts in all that support for families – and especially working families – we need to look a little sceptically when Ministers say that they are going to support children by “giving married couples a tax break”. David Cameron says that “in this Parliament the government will recognise marriage in the tax system.”

On the face of it, that doesn’t sound unreasonable. But, just examine what it actually means in practice.

Over the years, I have spent considerable time in my surgeries trying to assist (usually) women who have found themselves in dire financial straits after the breakdown of their marriages. Too often, the departed (usually) husband has not been paying any or sufficient maintenance – either awarded by the court or through the Child Support Agency. Too frequently, the individual has described how the errant partner has divorced and re-married and appears to be enjoying a financially secure new life, whilst leaving the first wife and children in penury.

So, David Cameron now intends to reward the errant husband for being married, whilst penalizing the innocent wife and children of the first marriage just because they’re now a single family, but not of their choosing.

That doesn’t sound very moral to me.