After threats of backbench rebellion, government assurances, and further threats, David Cameron has finally succumbed to his backbenchers and promised them a marriage tax allowance “soon”. This demonstrates the worrying increase in power the so-called “Tea Party Tories” have over the leadership: only two years ago, Edward Leigh proposed an amendment to introduce the marriage tax allowance which was defeated overwhelmingly by 473 to 23. Now, despite the Chancellor and PM’s reservations, the weight of the rebellion is enough to force the PM’s hand. The “nasty party” is alive and well and its backwards looking social conservatism is increasing its grip on the leadership.
The infighting exposes the splits within the Conservative Party and undoubtedly destabilises David Cameron. But a marriage tax allowance is more than a sop to the right. It is a pernicious policy, and a waste of scarce public money. We should fight its reintroduction.
The marriage tax allowance proposed by Tim Loughton MP this week would see money specifically targeted at a minority of married couples where one person goes out to work whilst one stays at home. Only a third of married couples would be eligible. Only 35% of those who would receive it have children, and a paltry 17% have children under five. Single parent families, widows or widowers, couples where both need or choose to go to work, and couples who simply choose not to get married, would all miss out. As Yvette Cooper has shown, the government’s cuts to benefits and tax credits have already hit women three times harder than men – handing a tax break to families in this way means yet more money in the pockets of men.
Families are already paying too high a price for the Conservatives’ economic failure. One million families have lost child benefit this year. Lone parent families are losing out more than any other family group. Four hundred SureStart centres have closed since the General Election. Low paid new mums will lose £1,300 during pregnancy and their baby’s first year from cuts to pregnancy support, tax credits and real terms cuts to maternity pay. Food poverty is increasing. Just last week the Tory-led coalition slashed budgets by £11.5 billion, which will impact services affecting families up and down the country. In this context, it is nothing less than an insult to struggling families of all shapes and sizes that the Conservatives are prepared to find at least £500 million to prioritise “sending a signal” about marriage.
As the grassroots campaign Don’t Judge My Family says, the government has no right to use the tax system to promote its old fashioned view of how modern families should live. David Cameron promised that his government would be the “most family friendly ever”. But it’s clear that only applies if your family fits his narrow, privileged and backward looking view of what a family should look like.
Kate Green is MP for Stretford and Urmston, and Labour spokesperson for Equalities.