Laura Perrins on how the Tories have lost their way over marriage policy
The fact that the Tory family policy is interchangeable with those of Labour and the Liberal Democrats illustrates how unappealing the current Conservative Party is to socially conservative voters. We have watched the Tories engage, for their entire term in government, in a shameless and unedifying bidding war as to which party can pour the most amount of taxpayer’s money into the childcare industry. The childcare subsidy, for instance, will cost at least £1 billion. And I thought we were shrinking the deficit?
Ultimately, this childcare subsidy will prove disastrous, not just for the unfortunate one-year-olds dumped in nurseries from morning to night, and their families, but the State and the Conservative Party also. I have no doubt the current loaded Conservative Party ‘survey’ that asks voters if they think childcare is the ‘number one issue facing the entire country’ is a prelude for even more State hand-outs in this area.
This is one expense the State cannot afford - paying parents to pay another person to care for their own children. But perhaps the slow learners in the Tory party will eventually realise that they will not be able to outbid Labour and the Liberal Democrats when it comes to spending other people’s money.
The only policy of significance that divides the parties is the transferable tax allowance between married couples. Labour and the Lib Dems oppose it, of course, because they do not like marriage as it produces stability and less reliance on the State. Less reliance on the State means fewer jobs for the progressives - and we cannot have that.
It will also mostly benefit parents who care for their children at home, as these will be the only ones who have an allowance to transfer to their spouse. Labour and Lib Dems also do not like full-time mothers. They are out of the workforce and, shamefully, caring for their own children. I believe Chancellor George Osborne called this a “lifestyle choice” . We cannot have this either.
However, as the Conservatives have left the introduction of the allowance so late, and as it is such a derisory amount applying only to basic rate taxpayers, it will be the first policy to be scrapped should they lose the election. But then Mr Osborne has set it up this way, for he does not believe government should be involved in this marriage business.
For all that, Conservatives do quite like getting involved in the marriage business when it suits them and their modernising agenda. They jumped feet first into gay marriage, despite the fact this fundamental change transformed marriage from an institution for the protection of children produced in such a union of man and wife into one entirely dependent on adult sentiment. Adults rule, OK?
Conservatives have always warned that if you shrink civil society and marriage, in particular, the State only grows to take its place. Here it is writ large.
And the Tories are involving themselves in other ‘relationships’ (talking about relationships and not just marriage is far easier these days). In a speech given to Relate, the Prime Minister made clear it is an appropriate role for agents of the State, such as midwives and health visitors, to add some relationship advice as well. Now we are going to have relationship ‘support’ in antenatal classes and health visitors will offer ‘relationship advice’. The great Conservative plan to save the family is to increase the number of health visitors by 4,200 and re-orientate them to support not just the mother and child, but the whole family.
I am expecting my third child, and in my humble opinion midwives' energies should be focused delivering babies safely and giving out much needed drugs during labour. They should not be giving out relationship advice while the baby’s head is crowning. As for health visitors, they are there to check newborn infants are reaching developmental milestones, not to hand out some postbaby sex tips most new mothers could do without. If this is the best the Conservatives have to offer, we might as well give up now.
Mr Cameron was also pretty delighted to say, “Four years ago I increased funding for relationship support by 50 per cent and pledged that this government would invest at least £7.5 million a year for 4 years.” It is depressing to hear a Conservative Prime Minister sounding like a socialist. That £30 million over the next four years is not government money. It is taxpayer’s money. This is the Nanny State come home.
If the Tories want to offer voters a genuinely conservative family policy, they must extend the transferrable tax allowance to higher rate taxpayers and increase the amount. It is now the case that, for the first time in decades, married spouses with dependents are treated in exactly the same way as single people. If you are going to claim to be family friendly, having a tax system that recognises families actually exist would be a good start. It is probably a good idea to recognise the extra expense having a family brings. This is why there must be a genuine tax allowance, based on marriage.
Unbelievably, the Conservative Party has set up a tax on aspiration for middle income earners. Many middle-income earners are no better off if they get promoted from the basic rate to the higher rate as they will lose child benefit and face a punitive tax burden.
So much for being on the side of hardworking families.
In terms of cost, there is of course a profound moral difference between a benefit and a tax allowance – most Conservatives recognised this until recently. However, it still needs to be costed. If the party is concerned as to where it will find the money to allow families an allowance, it can start making some inroads into the gross amount of taxpayer’s money poured into the childcare industry.
Laura Perrins is co-editor of The Conservative Woman website