There is a really fascinating discussion of whether the tax system should recognise marriage, on the Guardian podcast today, featuring Iain Duncan Smith, Polly Toynbee, Tim Dowling and the lady from Mumsnet. I won’t try to summarise it all here – it is 20 minutes long – but I have found it very compelling.
Despite IDS having a decent 2 minutes to have a go at the State of Unmarried Britain – and his being able to say that 70 percent of people, single or otherwise, support such recognition – I have found the ideas of the others, who are against such State recognition of private arrangements, extremely compelling.
Dowling: “Much as I like the idea of being paid for something I did 15 years ago for entirely different reasons . . .”
is one good quote. The people interviewed in Nappy Valley (Battersea) were also, it seemed, mostly against the idea: ‘Why should I be rewarded for this?’ being a typical comment, and when people expressed approval, there words were often prefaced with ‘Well, I’m married . . . ‘
Mumsnet has also found general hostility to the idea from its often-single parent members. I think it was the lady from Mumsnet that raised the spectre of ‘Back to Basics’ . . .
Toybnee is also very harsh on the Conservative plans to means-test more services like health visitors, warning of it starting to look like a segregated system, a sort of recognition of being poor and not a good parent, rather than a universal service.
I think we all agree that in an ideal world children would be raised by two loving parents. In this world, with all its accidents and unfairness, is rewarding those who reach this state in a certain way really the best way of spending ££££s to improve the chances of kids getting a great childhood?
And did I mention that we don’t have very much money to go around on pet schemes? The Liberal Democrat leadership have demonstrated their maturity – and bravery in the face of often passionate grassroots – in abandoning various favourite schemes, because national solvency has to come first. Does it come first for the Tories as well? Or does pleasing their irrational base get priority?
UPDATE: The last 5 minutes is primarily about Ed Balls’ parenting advice leaflets. I don’t happen to agree with his centralising ‘this is how to do it’ approach to matters. But I personally think he is a fairly good, robust communicator, able to trot out relevant figures – like divorce rates being back down to 1981 levels – in a quick and coherent way. I remain surprised that he is not taken more seriously as next leader. However, he is also a bit misleading: I am sure he implied that we are seeing fewer lone parent households – but much as I oppose kneejerk miserabilism, this is not true.