David Cameron’s tax breaks for married couples are largely “symbolic” because marriage provides little benefit to the development of children, according to leading economists.
Married couples will be given tax breaks worth up to £150 each under plans that will become law by the end of the year. Photo: ALAMY
Later this year the Prime Minister will unveil plans to recognise marriage by giving couples tax breaks worth £150 each.
However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies will say at a conference that the education and wealth of parents is a far more significant factor in children’s development than marriage.
It believes that the size of the tax break is too small to encourage significant numbers of people to wed and will serve only to “signal” the government’s preference for married families.
Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge who started the Marriage Foundation campaign, said that the IFS has “got it wrong” and failing to recognise the positive impacts of marriage.
He said that the growing number of couples choosing to co-habit rather than marry since the 1980s have contributed towards the doubling of family breakdown.
He said: “The one big social change that could possibly account for this huge increase in instability is the trend away from relatively stable marriage and towards relatively unstable cohabitation.
“Marriage involves a major decision about the future as a couple that brings clarity and removes ambiguity, in much the same way as planning to have a baby.
“Of course marriage is not a panacea; not every marriage lasts, but a married couple have statistically a far greater chance of remaining intact than a cohabiting couple.”
Research shows that children whose parents are married make better progress at school and are more emotionally stable than those whose parents co-habit.
However, the IFS has found that this is only because the people who marry are likely to be more affluent and better educated.
Claire Crawford, director of education and skills at the IFS, said: “I imagine that [the tax breaks] are of symbolic value or interest to the government.
“They want to signal that that is that type of family that they prefer or would like people to raise their children in.
“Evidence, which is not ours, suggests that even sometimes very large incentives might only encourage a small number of people to get married.
“The figures I’ve seen talked about are in the order of £150 a year, which I can’t imagine given the cost of actually getting married would be a massive incentive.
“Our evidence suggests that even if it did encourage people to get married, it wouldn’t necessarily have a dramatic effect on children’s outcomes.”
The IFS previously analysed the impact of marriage on children aged three, five and seven. It is currently embarking on new research which will assess the impact on children up to the age of 16.
Mrs Crawford said that the research, which will be published later this year, is likely to have similar findings to the earlier work.
She said: “I imagine we will see that there may still be small differences in these outcomes but that again we will be able to explain them largely by the fact different adults have chosen to get married.”
Downing Street has said no decision has been made about the level at which the tax break would be set. Tories are pushing for higher levels of tax relief to encourage more people to wed.
SOURCE: The Telegraph