A leading Conservative has defended Tory marriage policy which will benefit married couples by giving them tax breaks.
The policy, part of an overall strategy to tackle family breakdown, was attacked last week by Times columnist Philip Collins who said it would make little difference to whether or not couples decide to marry.
However, Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills David Willetts, in his own article for The Times, says Mr Collins “gets perilously close to arguing that affluent, stable couples just choose to stick a piece of paper on their relationship and call it a marriage.
“This is like arguing that the law of theft is completely irrelevant to whether or not we take each other’s property.
“It would be an odd world indeed where marriage, an institution with a sophisticated legal framework around it, as well as deep cultural roots and strong public support, did not affect our behaviour”, he adds.
The policy recommendation, which is expected to be adopted by the Conservatives, was set out in a report entitled Every Family Matters by the Centre for Social Justice think-tank.
The report also said couples seeking a divorce should have a compulsory three-month “cooling off” period first.
It recommended marriage classes before tying the knot and counselling to help prevent marriages from breaking down.
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has described the proposals as ‘lecturing’ and Mr Collins said “the suggestion that warring couples be taught the implications of their decision is fabulously patronising.”
But Mr Willetts, who has a responsibility for Conservative family policy, says “it is unjust not to recognise the legal commitment to maintain someone else when the tax authorities are deciding on your tax liability.”
Mr Willetts points to the UK’s unusual situation compared to other developed (OECD) countries.
He highlights research showing: “a single-income married couple in the UK paid more than 44 per cent more tax, net of benefits and tax credits, than a single-income married couple in the average OECD country. The peculiar structure of our income tax is the reason.”
Mr Willetts’ comments come as the Bishop of Hereford told clergy and churchgoers last week that they must do more to support married couples and families.
Bishop Anthony Priddis said: “Many parishes are involved in marriage preparation work and in weddings but we are very poor at any follow up”.
The Bishop continued: “What do we need to strengthen and support these relationships? Can we do a bit more?”
He referred to the Good Childhood report issued earlier this year, which highlighted the increasing harm being caused to children by family breakdown.
He continued: “There is brokenness in so many of these reports. We need to look at things with the eyes of children, we need to ask is there more that we can do to strengthen the loving relationships that they, and we, desire for them.”