Conservatives announce marriage tax break plan

I have reproduced below a news item on the Tory marriage tax plans from the CSM website.

Focus should be on family stability and help for the poorest, says CSM

Conservative claims they can support marriage through the tax system cannot substitute for a comprehensive policy on the family, the Christian Socialist Movement says today. Government should focus on promoting family stability and helping the poorest families.

CSM has been in the forefront of the family policy debate this year. It hosted a debate with Ed Balls, cabinet minister for Children, Schools, and Families last month. CSM's latest magazine focuses on family matters and includes contributions from Treasury minister Stephen Timms and MP Andy Reed.

The Conservative Party says that if it wins the election it will allow some married couples to transfer part of their personal tax allowance between each other. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that this would be worth up to £150 at most. The policy is also surprising in the groups it targets.

"Christians support marriage and that will always be important," said Stephen Beer, CSM's political communications officer. "When it comes to public policy, the best way of doing that is by helping family stability. Christians will also want to direct resources to those families which need most help, without judging people in different situations."

The IFS concludes that "the incentives to marry (or not to divorce) provided by a policy whose maximum benefit is £150 a year must surely be weak relative to the other costs and benefits involved."

It states that:
Only 32% of married couples will benefit and only 29% of non-pensioner couples
Couples with both working on incomes above £6,555 will not benefit from the policy.
Couples with both working on incomes below £6,555 will not benefit from the policy.

Stephen Beer added:
"The problem with this policy is that it is more spin than substance. The Conservatives want to sound supportive of marriage but in practice are not prepared to do much about it. Their proposals are not even focused on couples with children, where stable families are essential. Couples with both people working on low incomes will not benefit. There is not even strong evidence on how much effect financial incentives have on the decision to marry.

"Christians support marriage but church support should not be bought by the Tories for such a shallow policy. What matters is supporting families across all policy areas and helping those in particular need."

A political party's policy on jobs is important too. The recessions in the 1980s and 1990s showed that high unemployment was bad for family stability with the divorce rate peaking on both occasions. "In both cases unemployment rose above three million under a Conservative government which considered it 'a price worth paying'. Conservative economic policy today would threaten not only recovery, but family life too," Mr Beer added.

CSM members have supported Labour's focus on tackling child poverty and helping parents through Sure Start. The government's Green Paper on the family took this further by putting the family at the centre of social policy.

CSM has posted a range of articles on the family here.

Stephen Beer, 10/04/2010

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