It’s not that marriage is good for children, it’s that poverty is bad for them. Offering couples tiny tax breaks because they’ve had a wedding whilst cutting the rest of their benefits is like stealing someone’s car and offering them a bus pass as compensation.
On Sunday morning, I sat bleary eyed in the Sunday Morning Live studios alongside Peter Hitchens and Yvonne Ridley. The topic we discussed was marriage and whether it provides better outcomes for children. Within moments of coming off air, I was bombarded with messages. Apart from one person fulminating about my going to hell in a hand basket, along with Sinead O’Connor and Madonna, the rest were vehemently opposed to the idea of incentivising people to get married.
In reality, only 1/3 of married couples would be eligible for the marriage tax allowance, at a cost of £700m to tax payers. Households with a traditional 1950’s breadwinner and homemaker stand to gain the most. According to the campaign group Don’t Judge my Family, this policy would discriminate against widows and widowers, people leaving abusive relationships, working parents, people who choose not to marry and the 1 in 4 children growing up in single parent families.
Ian Duncan Smith pontificates about children born to married couples having better outcomes. That’s true, not because of marriage itself, but rather because married couples tend to be better educated and enjoy higher incomes. He’s conflating correlation with causation.
A far more relevant, detrimental, determinant of children’s outcomes is poverty. According to Barnardos there are 3.6m children in Britain living in poverty and 2.5m families in fuel poverty. Crippling benefits cuts are condemning Britain’s poorest children to growing up in a cycle of poverty, with increased risk of chronic illness, malnutrition and poor educational attainment.
Freezing child benefit for the third year running will do nothing to help these children. Nor will this government’s decision to break the link between benefits and inflation. Energy prices alone are set to increase by 10% this year, that’s three times the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, one of the big 6 energy companiesSSE awarded 4 executives £5 million in bonuses this year, despite being fined a record £105 million for prolonged and extreme mis-selling. To add insult to injury, SSE announced an excruciating price hike yesterday.
Austerity measures, targeting the most vulnerable in society, have left families, on average, £900 worse off a year. Bribing these couples with the chance to recoup £200 (of the £900 stolen from them), in exchange for getting married, is like stealing someone’s car and offering them a bus pass as compensation.
While the poor get poorer, government policies ensure the rich get richer. Cutting the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p has made millionaires in this country hundreds of thousands of pounds better off. Big businesses are still exploiting tax loopholes which the government has neglected to close, at a loss of billions to the exchequer annually.
I was in Greece recently to speak at an international women’s summit hosted by the European Sustainability Academy. It emerged that the biggest barrier to women achieving their potential, was not the pay gap, quotas in favour of men, or even child care. It was domestic violence. Despite Greece having one of the lowest divorce rates in Europe, domestic violence is rampant.
I grew up in Ireland, where divorce has only been legal since 1997. For many, family life wasn’t so much The Waltons as Psycho. Domestic violence always existed. The only difference is, historically, there were no women’s refuges. There were however, lots of Tupperware parties, which was a 1970’s version of the Irish Women’s Movement.
Children who are exposed to abuse are more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood. We must teach children that it’s not OK to be abused or humiliated, especially by someone claiming to love them. And, that sometimes the right thing to do is walk away.
There’s a Greek saying, When poverty comes in the front door, happiness goes out the window. Families around the country are struggling to feed their children, unable to pay heating bills and living in fear of eviction. Headlines about marriage couldn’t be more disconnected from their reality. Hasn’t anyone at Tory HQ ever heard of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs?
Written by Tess Finch-Lees
Tess Finch-Lees is a journalist & blogger specialising in ethics & human rights.