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Families: Marriage

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to do more to encourage parents to make the commitment of marriage.

My Lords, we support marriage as evidence points to loving and resilient relationships having the most positive impact on a child’s life. Such relationships, though, are not exclusive to marriage. It is how the family functions, not its structure, which matters most. We therefore continue to encourage parents to develop and sustain long and stable relationships rather than to commit to marriage itself.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that the partnership breakdown rate for couples who are not married is more than double that for couples who are married? From 2002-04 this Government made available a grant of £5 million a year predicated to be used for support for marriage and relationships. It might be appropriate, as he is in his place, for me to quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, or am I going on too long?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Question and for the enormous wisdom that he brings to this House with regard to these matters. We do support relationships—for example, we made £7 million of grants available in 2009-11 to a range of voluntary and community organisations, and to family organisations specifically, including Relate and Marriage Care. Also, because of the tough economic climate that we find ourselves in, we have made available an additional £3.1 million to support families through the recession. It is extremely important that we support marriage and other relationships that sustain a positive childhood for our young people.

Has the noble Baroness come across a report by Marriage Care which found that a sample of married couples in 2008-09 would have been £58 a week better off living apart than together, and that that figure, had they separated the previous year, would have been only £48? Does that not suggest that our fiscal arrangements are out of kilter?

I apologise to the noble Lord; I have not read that report. I will go and look at it of course. As a result of tax and benefit changes that this Government have introduced since 1997, four out of 10 families now pay no tax at all, and we make no apology for our policies that have lifted more than 600,000 children out of poverty and greatly reduced the tax burden on working families.

My Lords, I am sure we all welcome what the Government have done to help and support parents, but if I were to tell the Minister that one large London borough had only one parent support class on one occasion last year, would she consider that to be enough?

Of course I would not consider that to be enough, my Lords. I am particularly concerned that we should ensure a far greater take-up of parenting support classes around the country. This Government are considering new ways of targeting family support so that we can get it to the places where parents and families need it most.

My Lords, will the Minister try again to answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Elton? Why is Britain’s tax and benefits system discriminating against those who are married?

My Lords, I disagree entirely with the noble Baroness’s analysis because the party opposite would like to discriminate against children of lone parent families of the kind of non-traditional family types; in the past I have strong evidence of the party opposite wishing to discriminate against them. This Government are about promoting a child-centred approach and about creating a system that targeted at support for children and families who need it most.

Is the Minister aware of the strong evidence that good-quality sex and relationship education has an important role in reducing teenage pregnancy and thereby encouraging more stable long-term relationships and adults making a commitment when they are mature enough to do so effectively?

My Lords, I am very much aware of the evidence that shows that good, strong education and advice on relationships, particularly for children and young people, can make a huge difference. This Government have responded to a great deal of good argument from this House about the proposal that PSHE should become statutory in the school curriculum. An important part of that is about making sure that children and young people learn about the roles and responsibilities of being a parent, the qualities of making good parenting decisions, the value of family life and, within that, the value of marriage.