Dear David and Samantha Cameron
Your family continues to be an outstanding example of a loving marriage. I am sure it must be an inspiration to many people, as indeed it is to me. And I would like to invite you to think about how you, David, might encourage strong marriages and secure families in Britain. I suggest that the duty you have taken on to govern in the best interests of society includes the duty of promoting the benefits of marriage.
I am not writing specifically as a Christian, and I am confining myself to the facts of the situation. Naturally we would expect many people to reject the promotion of an institution on the basis of religious belief. We are no longer, in any everyday sense, a Christian country.
Since the 1960s, which saw the introduction of the contraceptive pill, there has been a substantial change in attitudes. The integral connection between sexual expression and pregnancy has largely disappeared. Sexual intercourse is treated as a natural way of expressing a heterosexual relationship – whether it be casual or committed. In particular we see the growing phenomenon of cohabitation. While you would certainly be criticised for interfering with sexual practices in general, cohabitation has become a feature of significant social change in society. And it is one that has important consequences for society’s welfare.
I know that you value long-lasting, stable relationships as key to the stability and happiness of society. The breakdown of long-term relationships – whether marriage or cohabitation – is usually a source of tragedy for one or both partners. But even sadder is the experience of breakdown for the children, who undergo the loss of their emotional security and parental care through no fault of their own. You will be aware, since you have to balance the books, that such breakdown is immensely expensive in terms of welfare and support. The annual cost is estimated at £46 billion – not a negligible sum for someone concerned to reduce a deficit.
You should be aware that cohabiting couples make up only 19 per cent of today’s parents yet account for half of all family breakdowns, and that couples who were not married at the time of the child’s birth are more than twice as likely to split up in the following 15 years, even if they married at a later stage. A contributing factor here is that cohabiting couples tend to “get together” at an earlier age than those who commit themselves to marriage, and thus are more vulnerable to making immature choices. You will recall Jack Straw, when he was home secretary, saying that “the most important thing is the quality of the relationship, not the institution in itself”. But experience has taught us that the institution of marriage is more than a piece of paper: it is the protector of families.
So what should you do? May I respectfully make some suggestions. While it might be counter-productive to disapprove of cohabitation, it would be important for you to exercise your leadership by championing the advantages of marriage as the preferred option for the stability of families. No doubt some would criticise you for this, but the evidence is unequivocal. Such a position would undoubtedly bring great benefit to the society whose welfare you have undertaken to promote.
But words alone would not suffice. You would need to back this up by looking for ways in which you could improve the tax situation for marriage. You will be aware that around a quarter of a million cohabiting couples choose to conceal their status, and thus can get (depending on precise circumstances) tax advantages of several thousand pounds a year over an equivalent married couple. Our society is, in effect, rewarding people for avoiding the commitment of marriage through simple tax evasion.
A practical step would be to appoint a Minister for Families. What aspect of society has greater need for the direct attention of a senior minister? It would provide a facility for supporting all families, and have the brief of developing tax and social policies which encourage the most stable relationships, by contrast with the less stable. Such a ministry would supervise prospective policies in terms of its impact on the family, in line with the criteria introduced by the last government.
The remit would include devising ways to encourage larger families. You will be aware that our population is not reproducing itself, and that this will eventually lead to an increasingly disproportionate cost for the care of the elderly. This will be a motive for ensuring that people welcome good-sized families.
I am sure that your ambition is that, by the time you stand down from your post, you will have increased the sum of happiness in our society. The promotion of marriage and the family will surely do that.
Quentin de la Bédoyère
(visit http://www.marriagefoundation.org.uk/ for relevant statistics)