BY ANNA ARCO
THE CATHOLIC bishops of England and Wales are likely to urge voters to make marriage a key priority in their election advice this year.
Marriage is emerging as a major battleground ahead of the General Election with Labour and Conservatives trading blows on the issue. It is not yet clear what form the bishops’ election advice will take but sources suggest that it will not be as extensive as their controversial 1997 preelection document the Common Good, which some commentators interpreted as an endorsement of Labour.
The bishops’ election advice will address areas of concern for the Church which they believe voters should ask MPs about ahead of the election. Sources say the bishops are likely to give advice on marriage, though it is unlikely to focus on the technicalities of tax breaks but rather on the overall benefits of marriage.
Tory proposals to give married couples tax breaks have come under attack by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said that the Conservatives were engaged in “social engineering”, while Nick Clegg said that they were offering bribes to families.
Conservatives later backed down on their proposals for tax breaks for all married couples for cost reasons, modifying their plans so that only married families with young children would receive tax breaks. I The Tories released their Green Paper on social justice and families, compiled by Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank the Centre for Social Justice, two weeks ago.
A Guardian/ICM poll this week showed that 65 per cent of voters think that a tax cut for families with children is a good idea. Among married couples support for marriage tax breaks rose to 78 per cent and was higher among Labour voters than among Tories.
The Opposition leader, David Cameron, said that the tax breaks were “more about the message than the money”.
He said: “I don’t think people are going to rush out and get married because there’s a certain amount of money on offer every week. I just think that we as a country should recognise the importance of committed relationships.” Conservatives would create a “we society” rather than a “me society”, Mr Cameron argued, if the party supported the institution of marriage.
Because of the high cost of giving all married couples an extra £20 a week, Conservatives have pledged to give tax breaks only to married couples with children under three years old.