Thursday, September 28, 2006

Love & Marriage (& money & benefits &...)

There are few people left (apart from Polly Toynbee and her state podding hatches) who do not believe that the ideal way for children to be brought up is in the context of a stable, two person relationship, and that the best of all possible worlds is marriage. So far so hunky dory. We know (or believe) what the best outcome is: that children are raised within a marriage. There are then two problems that arise: how do we maximise the incidence of this 'perfect state' and what do we do with those that are not within it?

Shannon Kyle has a post on Comment is Free that laments the fact that life is very tough for single mothers; that they get relatively little in benefits; and that the poverty trap is steep - full-time employment brings not much more money, and significantly higher costs while simultaneously reducing benefit entitlement. I'm not a cartoon right-winger on this, the 'keep your man or cross your legs' argument isn't terribly helpful. But it is a philosophical problem as much as a practical one.

The utilitarian side would say that, since we have a desired state, we should encourage its maximisation - both through incentive and disincentive. Married couples tax allowance, coupled with a reduction in child benefit should do it...

But wouldn't that be appallingly unjust to single parents? The liberal would reply. Not every single parent is in that state through selfishness or fecklessness. Some are widowed, some leave a violent partner - should we penalise them for a tragedy? Doesn't seem very compassionate...

It is the collision between these two conflicting voices that has driven the policies on single parents foe the last thirty years - since the incidence of divorce began to rocket and the number of illegitimate births rose in sympathy. So is it a question of striking a balance? Restricting the ease of divorce - perhaps by re-introducing a fault-based system? Making life harder - or easier - for single parents? Attacking the supply side or the demand side? Few topics are less suitable for emotive posturing; and yet few have attracted so much.

1 Comments:

Blogger The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

"Not every single parent is in that state through selfishness or fecklessness. Some are widowed, some leave a violent partner - should we penalise them for a tragedy? Doesn't seem very compassionate..."

True, but this is not an argument in favour of supporting the selfish and/or feckless. Yet that is currently exactly what the argument IS used to support.

PG

4:06 pm  

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