Tuesday, July 10, 2007

'Rewarding' marriage

Figures have recently shown that the numbers of people getting married is in the decline. That displeases, amongst others, the Tories. From the Party that criticises Labour for creating a nanny state, comes the proposal to bribe people to get hitched.

The focus is supposedly because it will help children, but the £20 a week average tax break would be available for those without children. My guessing though is this does not extend to civil partnerships.

Ian Duncan Smith, the person behind the recommendations, seems to be harping back to some golden age when most people married and stayed so till death to they part.
Yes, people tended to marry and stay married but that did not always mean a loving happy family home. Many were deeply unhappy but did not divorce, very often women could not afford to do so and divorce was still a stigma. It was frowned upon.

Women remained in abusive relationships because they could not afford to leave or they did not want to admit to ‘failure’. Children in school would stand out if their parents were divorced, or worse still they were ‘bastards’. Interesting how the child would bear the brunt of the parents’ actions and be penalised. seems the Tories are happy to return to that.

In my work with older people I have come across many that resent each other and are deeply unhappy, but its ‘what you did’, you made your bed and you laid on it.
I’m not saying people should always expect to be deliriously happy and leave at the first row, but life is short and why should someone stay in a relationship if they are deeply unhappy, perhaps with abuse or violence thrown in.

What about the children you may ask? Well I’m not convinced a child is best served by living with two parents who no longer love each other, who argue. Is it good for a child to hear bitter shouting and perhaps witness violence? Perhaps the parents make do and don’t argue, but is quiet coldness, a lack of love and affection between parents a good example for a child? Two parents of course are good, but that may be better served by them living separately and sharing the childcare.

And the Tories are quite specific in the parents they hold up as ideal:

Mr Cameron said: "The kids do best if mum and dad are there to look after them and today we have a benefit system that encourages couples to be separate. We have no recognition of marriage in the tax system. These things have to change."

He told the BBC that "mending Britain's broken society" was the "big argument of our times". He added: "We need a big cultural change in favour of fatherhood, in favour of parenting, in favour of marriage."

Children need parents that love them, whether that is a mother and father who live together or are married, two fathers who are gay or two women who are lesbians. The Tories may not like the fact, but abuse and violence happens in their nice heterosexual word of married couples. It does not protect a child or guarantee a stable upbringing.

On the Today programme Iain Duncan Smith said that people should be ‘rewarded’ for being married. So what about the children of single parents or co-habitees? If the issue was really about their welfare, rather than conservative values, the focus would be on tackling poverty, housing and education. The aim would be on ensuring all children lived above the poverty line in decent housing.

No, this is about ideology, heterosexual marriage good, other lifestyles bad.
An argument is that married couples split up less than co-habitees. I don’t understand the logic,that by giving people an extra £20 they will get married and somehow their relationship will suddenly become more stable? There are lots of short unstable marriages and lots of committed co-habitees. Does the figure take account of people who may live together, for example as students or when young, but not plan to have kids?

Can a relationship be made stable by an extra £20 a week? As I said, this does not underline the real poverty and lack of opportunities for many in this country.
I would worry about people rushing to get married, when perhaps not ready, in order to get a bit extra cash.

Will £20 persuade someone to stay put? The reality is that it is cheaper to live together, married or not, than separate. Shared bills, childcare and mortgage/rent. So how exactly is it that the Tories believe people are dumping their marriages to be better off financially alone?

This shows New Tories are still Old Tories. Two other events have also reinforced that. The Tories have made clear that not only will they ‘reward ' those who are married, they will crack down on single mothers:

Single parents will be required to work at least part-time as soon as their youngest child reaches the age of five under radical proposals for reforming the welfare system to be unveiled today.

The report, from a social justice commission headed by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, will recommend that "living on benefit should not be a way of life".

Oh and they also seem to have had their own ‘Ruth Kelly’ moment:

Sayeeda Warsi is the new Tory shadow minister for community cohesion, but has landed the party straight into a row over gay rights.

As the candidate for Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, was revealed to have distributed a leaflet to her potential constituents warning that the lowering of the age of consent allows children to be "propositioned for homosexual relationships".

"Labour has scrapped section 28 which was introduced by the Conservatives to stop schools promoting alternative sexual lifestyles such as homosexuality to children as young as seven years old... now schools are allowed and do promote homosexuality and other alternative sexual lifestyles to your children," the leaflet also said.

This is not about economics and financially supporting children,its about the symbolism of holding heterosexual marriage as an ideal.The flipside is that anything else is lesser. Its a move back to a time when women were trapped in marriages, as much by societal pressure as money. Its a time when kids were stigmatised by their parents marital status and when LGBT people were firmly in the closet.