I don’t often feel the urge to call Radio 5 Live, but the concept of rewarding the choice to get married, backed up by an assortment of panelists and callers spouting cliches about ‘acknowledging commitment’ or ‘supporting families’ who ‘do the right thing’ is enough to break the silence. It would have been nice of them to actually let me finish my point, but then I don’t think referring to marriage as ‘a mere lifestyle choice’ followed the grain of the debate they were trying to construct, regardless of the label’s accuracy.
There are three basic problems with this. I’ve never heard anything resembling a coherent explanation of why a single person (perhaps a single parent) or a pair of cohabitees on a low income should subsidise the personal choices and decisions of another couple with more money, who happen to be married. While I appreciate that one of the nuances of what’s actually on the table here is to apply it only to basic rate taxpayers. there remains ample scope for hard-earned cash to be snatched from some of the poorest in society and given people who are, well, much less poor. If you look at individual benefits as large pots of money, with people walking up, handing over their share and then walking away so that someone else can take it, you’ll soon be able to visualise whether or not there is any sort of moral case for it.
Does a married couple’s allowance pass this test? Make up your own minds, but methinks not.
“Ah but three pounds a week isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference in terms of whether or not people get married or stay married” is the stock defence to any argument against ‘bribing’ people to marry. Agreed – so what the fuck is the point of it then? It’s a baffling state of affairs when politicians and those who agree with them cite the utter pointlessness of a change in the system as a reason why it should happen. So we concur that this will cost money, penalise low earners who happen not be married, while making no difference whatsover to the choices of those who receive the benefit – and you’re telling me this is exactly why we should do it? Go figure.
Finally there’s the gaping hole that exists in the basic premise behind this nonsense – apparently, a couple should always strive to get married and stay married. What, regardless of the circumstances in a particular marital home? Sometimes people just drift apart and stop caring about each other, some marriages turn into violent and/or miserable nightmares for one party or both. To make a broad brushstroke that marriage is always, always good ‘for the sake of the children’ is at best a clumsy and naive piece of wishful thinking, dreamed up by people who have clearly never spent time around a dysfunctional and destructive family environment, one where at least some of the individuals involved needed to go their own way.
Only it isn’t about children at all, apparently, since civil partnerships and any gay marriages that might take place down the line would also qualify for this lucrative three quid bounty. My gut reaction was to see this as a rather shameless attempt to buy the ‘pink vote’ at the next election, but forgive me for being oh so cynical. What it’s really about, is commitment, the Tories think we should all be, er, committed. Well I’ve occasionally thought I should be. But seriously, who the fuck is the government to insist you should ‘commit’ to someone else? That’s entirely the business of you and whoever you either do or do not want to spend the rest of your life with.
Forget Radio 5 Live – after that I think a call to the Samaritans might be necessary. Take it easy.