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Warning over ‘fairy-tale’ weddings

Tango dancer Kerri-Anne Donaldson and Italian opera star Gianluca Paganelli (third couple from left) show other couples how to salsa on College Green in London to promote marriage week. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Tango dancer Kerri-Anne Donaldson and Italian opera star Gianluca Paganelli (third couple from left) show other couples how to salsa on College Green in London to promote marriage week. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

The celebrity-driven trend for “fairy-tale” weddings is contributing towards family breakdown by forcing couples into debt at the start of their lives together, British Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith warned.

The warning came as Mr Smith renewed calls for the government to fulfil the Conservative commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system.

The Tory pledge was condemned as “patronising drivel” by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg during last year’s election campaign, and has remained on the back-burner since the creation of the coalition government.

But Mr Duncan Smith said the change – expected to be worth up to £500 a year to married couples – remained a “personal commitment” of Prime Minister David Cameron. He said he believed some Lib Dems would even vote for it, despite being allowed to abstain under the coalition agreement.

Speaking at the launch of national Marriage Week in the House of Commons, Mr Duncan Smith cited research indicating that as many as 90 per cent of young people aspire to marry, but suggesting that some hold back for financial reasons.

The state should not “lecture or push” people to marry, but it was “quite legitimate” for it to offer financial support for those who do, said the former Tory leader.

He said that his planned introduction of the Universal Credit to replace a variety of benefits would reduce the “couple penalty” which means many people in low-income households believe they are better off living apart. And he said that a further obstacle to tying the knot and making a marriage succeed was the ever-growing bill for modern weddings, which often top £20,000 as couples vie to emulate the celebrity nuptials portrayed in magazines like Hello!

“Research shows that debt is one of the most prominent causes of family breakdown,” said Mr Duncan Smith.

“The average amount spent on a wedding has risen to around £20,000. It has become apparent that many couples will not marry until they can have such a wedding and some couples will get into debt just to meet the costs of this expectation. “Imagine starting married life with a large hangover of debt. It must put enormous pressure on the relationship almost from the start.

“What seems to be forgotten is that the point of marriage is love, commitment and creating a safe environment in which to bring up a family. None of those costs more than the price of a marriage licence.”

Mr Duncan Smith said couples should “by all means have a party” to celebrate their union, but suggested they could delay it for five years after the actual wedding in order to stop the cost of the occasion putting their marriage at risk.

One of the reasons why marriage rates have dropped by almost 50 per cent over the past 40 years was that many couples felt they could not afford the ceremony, he said. “What has changed has been the Hello!-style idea that if you get married and can’t show yourself in a Hello! light, then somehow you are a bit of a failure.”

He also warned that many young people had an unrealistic expectation of what married life would be like.

“Too many people have an almost fairy-tale expectation of life after the marriage ceremony,” he said.

“As numbers of marriages have declined, their expectation of marriage has risen to levels their parents and grandparents would never have entertained.

“That puts huge pressure on newly-married couples as too few have the time to develop an understanding of the sacrifices that are needed to make their relationship work until they choose to break up.”

Chief executive of single parent charity Gingerbread Fiona Weir said: “At a time of significant financial hardship, when many families are experiencing poverty, introducing a tax break for marriage would be a shockingly unfair use of government funds.

“The majority of Britain’s 1.9 million single parents were previously married and expected their families to stay intact, and single parents consistently tell us that marriage tax proposals make them feel like second-class citizens.”

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