The state is not dealing with men who marry several wives because of cultural sensitivities, says a leading Muslim Peer.
Calling for stricter controls, Baroness Warsi told the BBC’s Today Programme that policy-makers had failed to take the issue seriously.
Baroness Warsi, the shadow minister for community cohesion, said: “Some of it has been done in the name of cultural sensitivity, and we’ve just avoided either discussing or dealing with this matter head on.”
The Government believes there are around 1,000 polygamous men living in the UK, although one senior imam in London has reportedly put the figure at 4,000.
It is thought that some of these men marry additional wives overseas or in private religious ceremonies and use state benefits to support their growing families.
In a report by the Daily Mail, one 34-year-old woman revealed how her husband suddenly left her and her children, disappearing to Bangladesh where he married a 19-year-old second wife in an Islamic ceremony.
She expects her husband to bring his new wife and son back to Britain. “He has not given me a penny,” she said.
“He knows the state will provide for us. He has told me to tell the authorities I have been deserted and claim income support, housing benefit and council tax.”
She says the women involved in polygamous marriages suffer. “The first wives get depressed because they are so ashamed of their husband taking a second or third wife.
“Many wives have been here for years, but have never been allowed to learn English or even go out of the house alone. They have no-one to turn to for help.”
One NHS nurse in East London said the practice of one man living with multiple wives and children was not uncommon.
He said: “It is not difficult to conclude that if there were no state benefits, a man could not afford to live like this, especially here in London.
“The system is at fault. The men want more wives for their sexual pleasure, but also because it is lucrative.”
Baroness Warsi said it should be made “very clear” that everyone in Britain should have to abide by the law that one man is allowed to marry one woman.
Baroness Warsi said there were marriages taking place in homes with an “imam and a couple of witnesses there”, and called for a law requiring such marriages to be registered within a four-week period.
“If that was the case,” she said, “then those marriages would have to be declared within law.
“And if those marriages were declared within law, then clearly, if the person has a first legal wife, there could be potential cases of bigamy being brought.”