Marriage is a good thing. Married people are happier and married couples are vastly more likely to stay together than unmarried cohabiters. This is important because every serious study has shown that on average the children of stable couples outperform those of single parents in every measurable regard, from increased educational attainment and better mental health to reduced chances of using illegal drugs or ending up in jail. So, marriage is good for individuals, children, and a society that has to pick up the pieces when children go off the rails, but current government policy ignores all this. The tax and benefit system is not just neutral on marriage, it actually discriminates against it, and the explanation appears to be that successive generations of politicians have been keen not to penalise single parents, and not to tell people how to live their lives. They have half a point about single parents, most of whom are single through bereavement or desertion, not because they are feckless, and of course when a relationship is abusive it is sometimes better that it ends. However they have no point on the handing out of lifestyle advice; if people can be told not to smoke, drink or use hard drugs then the government has a perfect right to point out that bringing up children by yourself is to be avoided if possible, and the tax system should reflect that.
It is with this background that the Conservative Social Justice Policy Group has reported. This has many recommendations, but a key proposal is simply that the tax and benefit system should encourage to stay together and marry. This is not driven by a moral crusade, and it is put forward in the full knowledge that MPs, and the rest of us, are fallible human beings whose relationships don’t always work out. That hasn’t stopped them recommending what is right, and I have no doubt that this will become Conservative policy for the next election. The question is if the Labour government will stick with a benefit system that encourages people to do worse by their children.