Bishop of Wakefield Tony Robinson: “Government must incentivise marriage”

A bishop in Yorkshire has warned the Government that more needs to be done to encourage couples to wed as official figures revealed that marriage rates have dropped significantly over the past decade.

Bishop of Wakefield Tony Robinson. Pic: Allan McKenzie
Bishop of Wakefield Tony Robinson. Pic: Allan McKenzie

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which were published yesterday, showed that the number of co-habiting couple families increased by 25.8 per cent from 2.7m in 2008 to 3.4m last year.

More in news: How a nightclub-turned-church is putting faith in the heart of BradfordThe ONS claimed that the rise may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marrying or to cohabit before marriage.

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The Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, claimed Ministers needed to do more to persuade couples to commit to marriage.

Bishop of Huddersfield Jonathan Gibbs. Pic: Steve Riding

He said: “I think it does demand action by the Government - whether there are any benefits in getting married financially. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if there are. That used to be the case.

“They often talk about values that are important in society and family and marriage are important values, and sometimes that needs to be reflected in Government policy.”

The Bishop of Huddersfield, Jonathan Gibbs, acknowledged that there had been a long-running trend for marriages rates to decline, but he maintained that he was not overly concerned about the statistics published yesterday.

He said: “Clearly if you look at the stats over the last 30 or 40 years there’s been a rate of decline but rumours of the demise of marriage are grossly exaggerated.

“There’s certainly an element of changing lifestyles. We’re at a time of flux and change in society. While there has been something of a downward trend I certainly don’t think marriage is on the way out.

“I think the odds are at some point in the future we may well see an increase in rates of marriage.”

He said one factor in the decrease in marriage was the financial burden of organising a wedding, with the average cost now about £20,000.

“The cost of weddings is certainly increasing because there seems to be this social pressure to put on a big do,” he said.

The total number of families in the UK has also risen by 7.6 per cent from 17.7m in 2008 to 19.1m last year, in line with the growth in the UK population over this period of 7.5 per cent.

The ONS defines a family as a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children, or a lone parent, with at least one child, who live at the same address.

Married and civil partner couple families were the most common family type in the UK in 2018, accounting for two-thirds of the total number of families.

But the ONS said that since 2008 the share of married couple families had declined from 69.1 per cent of all families while the share of cohabiting couple families has increased from 15.3 per cent to 17.9 per cent.

Cohabiting families were the second largest family type followed by single-parent families, it added.

The number of people living alone rose to more than eight million for the first time in 2018, up from 7.7 million in the previous year, the ONS said.

A Treasury spokesman stressed a marriage allowance for income tax was introduced in 2015 to “recognise the importance of marriage”. He added that married couples also benefit from exemptions for their spouses for inheritance tax and capital gains tax.