A new Conservative strategy to reverse family breakdown is expected to involve tax breaks for married couples and make divorce harder.
The measures are recommended in a report by think-tank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) which rejects the idea that marriage is just another ‘lifestyle choice’.
Instead, the authors say, it is of “paramount importance to individuals, children, communities and our nation”.
And they put the cost of escalating family breakdown at up to £24 billion a year – equating to £820 for the average taxpayer.
“The breakdown of marriage and other, less stable, relationships generate real financial costs to society – not only the direct costs of supporting lone parents, but also indirect impacts on employment, education, health, crime, police and prisons,” the report is expected to say.
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has dismissed the plans as ‘lecturing’.
But Iain Duncan Smith, a Conservative MP and head of the CSJ, said: “This is a landmark report. It amounts to a comprehensive legal blueprint for shoring up marriage and the family and reversing more than 30 years of official neglect and social decay.”
Critics say the new plans have been undermined by Conservative leader David Cameron’s vocal support for ‘gay rights’.
Columnist Melanie Phillips has warned that “the gay rights agenda undermines marriage”.
“Gay rights activists claim that ‘lifestyle choice’ means gay relationships should be treated identically to heterosexual ones,” she explains.
“But the core reason for family breakdown is precisely the view that marriage is merely a ‘relationship’ for people to choose or not from a menu of alternative lifestyles.
“However, marriage is not a ‘relationship’ but a unique institution for safeguarding the upbringing of children. It has to be protected in turn by a web of law and custom, tradition and attitudes.
“That web has been destroyed by the ‘all lifestyles are equal’ doctrine.”
Leading family lawyer Mr Justice Coleridge warned last month that marriage needed to be restored as the “gold standard” of relationships.
He said family courts all over the country were “overwhelmed with cases involving damaged, miserable or disturbed children”.
He criticised the BBC for moving a documentary on the issue to a later slot because it was “too dark”.
“That, however, may be a symptom of a wider problem”, he said.
“Yes, what goes on within broken families is dark – very dark. But we won’t throw any light on it if we refuse to acknowledge it and open it up to debate”.
Last week a Government-commissioned report found that the effects of family breakdown on children could last into adulthood.
Another study by the Bristol Community Family Trust found that regardless of education or income, unmarried couples are twice as likely to separate before their child’s fifth birthday as their married counterparts.