Don't be fooled by Tories' married tax break

LAST time I mentioned I'd been visiting my colleagues in the Green Party of England and Wales at their conference in Brighton.

This weekend I'll be in Inverness for the Scottish Green Party's own conference.

But it's the gatherings of the bigger parties which get the media's attention.

Most of these conferences no longer actually make policy; while I'm happy to be in a party which maintains this quaint tradition, for many others conference season is just a chance to rally the troops, and of course to float some new policy ideas which may or may not eventually see the light of day.

Ed Miliband has been talking about the cost of living, and the Scottish Parliament will this week debate Labour's proposals including the suggestion of an energy price freeze.

I'm curious to find out how exactly they plan to make this happen, though I'm pretty sceptical that they've actually worked out the detail yet.

If they could pull it off (and that's a big "if") it could well save households and businesses a substantial sum.

Which is what makes the Tories' offer to help with household budgets all the more puzzling.

Their idea of a so-called "marriage tax break" would save only a third of married couples and civil partners less than £4 a week.

What's more it would miss out huge numbers of the families most in need of help, and not just by accident - single parent families and those whose parents are both in low-paid work are among those deliberately excluded from the policy. Visit for more on the detail.

It's hard to see this as anything other than a gimmick, and a nasty one at that. It's not designed to make life easier for people who've been hit hardest by tough economic times.

It's designed to send a signal about the social values of the Tory party's right wing, the social conservatives who don't mind stigmatising people in poverty, resent gender equality, and always hated the idea of same-sex couples getting married.

There can be no-one who actually thinks that £4 a week will make an unhappy marriage happier, turn an abusive partner into a loving one, or provide support and stability in the lives of children growing up without them.

No, this policy merely shows that there are some families the Tories approve of, and some for whom they have barely disguised contempt.

The £700m or so that this will cost every year could be spent on making childcare affordable, or on health visitors to support young families, or increasing child benefit.

It could even fund the complete abolition of the Bedroom Tax. Any of these would be of far greater benefit to households which really need the help.

Make no mistake, despite its attempts to rebrand, the Nasty Party is still alive and well. This latest effort to pretend they're "on your side" is really just a pretext to judge you against their smug and self-righteous standards.

From Patrick's column in the Evening Times