The Don’t Judge My Family campaign, launched this weekend in response to public outrage against Tory plans to reward marriage through the tax system, highlights the clear blue water between Labour’s family friendly offer to voters and an out of touch, out of date Conservative party.
This issue has clearly touched a nerve: in just a few days over 1,800 people have already signed up to the campaign, and support is flowing in from celebrities, charities and people from all over the country.
As the campaign gathers pace, it’s worth reflecting on what this policy tells us about the Tories.
First, Cameron is more right wing than his image consultants want us to think. The idea of rewarding marriage through the tax system is, as Harriet Harman put it, “smug Victorian finger-wagging”. Believing that marriage has a higher moral status than other types of families – and worse, that government has a right to make this judgement – denies him any claim to the centre ground. As JK Rowling said last week in the Times this message from the Tories also displays incredible “ignorance” about the struggle faced by single parents.
Second, by putting style before substance, the Conservative Party has shown itself unfit to govern. “Sending the signal” would cost half a billion pounds a year. All of this is what the Treasury calls “dead weight”: costs which do not actually help change people’s behaviour. The IFS says that people would get married whether or not they got £3 per week. They’d get divorced whether or not they got £3 per week. So it’s a total, utter waste of taxpayers’ money.
In addition, the cash is very poorly targeted: only one third of married couples actually stand to gain; two in five of whom are pensioners, and only 17% of whom have children under 5. In any fiscal environment, but particularly one as tight as this, a responsible government which wants to help keep relationships together, or give kids the best start in life, would not spend our money on gesture politics. They’d spend it on marriage counseling, Sure Start, and targeted support for poor families with young children.
Sign up to the campaign against the Tory marriage tax allowance.