The Marriage Tax break tells us what we can expect from another 5 years of the Tories

23rd February, 2015 12:32 pm

Good news, everyone! Well, not everyone. Good news, couples! That is, couples who are married. Couples who are married, where one of them is a basic rate taxpayer, and the other one earns less than the personal allowance. If that’s your particular niche, then congratulations! You can now register for the marriage tax allowance, saving yourself anything up to the life-changing sum of £212 a year. Although this policy is, as David Cameron reminds us,‘about far more than pounds and pence. It’s about valuing commitment’.

David Cameron laughing

Famously, JK Rowling – after publishing six bestsellling children’s books, establishing a charitable trust with an annual budget of £5.1 million, being awarded an OBE, winning countless awards, and encouraging an entire generation of children to fall in love with reading – finally became a productive and valuable member of society by getting married, in 2001. As a former single mother, she responded to David Cameron’s belief in the symbolic importance of financial rewards for married couples, in 2010:

“Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say ‘it’s not the money, it’s the message’. When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money.”

But let’s say for the moment that it is the message. Let’s say it is for the government to tell people how to arrange their personal lives. What other messages are they sending out?

The young woman who finally ended an abusive relationship and got her violent partner out of the house – only to be evicted, because as a single person under 35 she was entitled to £150 a month less in housing benefit. What’s the message for her?

Then there was the woman who was accused of benefit fraud, because her ex-partner came round sometimes to see their kids. The DWP gave her a choice. Let your partner move back in, and we’ll add you to his claim for sickness benefits: if you don’t, we’ll stop your income support anyway, and prosecute you while we’re at it. “I’m just worried because they’re going to pay all the money straight to him,” she told me. “What if he decides not to let me have any?” What message about relationships is the government trying to send by forcing a separated couple back under the same roof?

Another woman receiving income support wanted to make sure she didn’t commit benefit fraud without realising it: she mentioned to a DWP adviser that she’d started seeing someone, and asked how often he was allowed to stay over before they were deemed to be living together. “Never,” she was told. “You’re not allowed to be in a relationship if you’re on income support.” Is that the message? You need to get married – so make sure you don’t give away the goods first?

If you’re thinking that these are extreme examples of a reasonable rule – that we should avoid, as far as possible, giving taxpayers’ money to people not in work – then how about the handful of working single mums I heard from one week? They were all having their income topped up by working tax credits, and had all received a letter saying HMRC had reason to believe they were living with a partner, and claiming fraudulently. “I don’t have a partner but I do let my teenage daughter’s boyfriend stay over sometimes – is that not allowed?” The letters – apparently sent out at random – caused a lot of confusion, but for me the message was clear: you can work, and pay tax, and bring up your kids, but as long as you are a single parent you are not to be trusted.

In any case, don’t forget just what sort of married couples will be rewarded by this tax break. One basic rate taxpayer, and one person earning under the personal allowance: otherwise known as one person going out to work, and the other one not. If you want to stay at home and look after your kids, the government will support your lifestyle, no questions asked – as long as you’ve married someone who can support it too. So be sure to stay on hubby’s good side, ladies! Perhaps next the government will find it helpful to distribute copies of the Ann Summers catalogue and a 1950 edition of Woman’s Own.

It’s tempting to imagine that this sort of socially backward appeal to good old family values is another Tory attempt to wrest back some of the support, from the right wing of their voters and their own party, that they’re losing to UKIP. But Cameron has been banging on about this tax allowance for so long – the last decade, on and off – that it seems he really does buy into the absurd, cargo-cultist belief that marriage makes people richer, more stable and better parents.

Either way, it’s a timely reminder of the Tories’ priorities. The marriage tax break is a message about what we can expect if they get back in for another five years. I just hope people are listening to it.

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  • Quiet_Sceptic

    I really dislike this sneering attitude of some on the Left about the traditional, stable 2 parent family. There’s nothing progressive about family breakdown; struggling single parents, time poor and financially poor trying to hold together a family, financially dependent on the state as a substitute for the breadwinner.

    The Labour party should support the model of stable 2 parent families but should take the money used for this scheme are redirect it into marriage counselling services and support. Some concrete measures which really help keep families together.

    • Tommo

      Good points. We should be supporting normal families not attacking them.

      • RegisteredHere

        A lot of normal, stable couples with families aren’t married.

    • BenM_Kent

      It rightly gets sneered at because it’s an attitude that’s massively outdated and belonging to the past.

      • David Battley

        You’re presumably not married, are you?

        • BenM_Kent

          I am, thanks.

          • David Battley

            Ok, so why did you get married, if it is so “massively outdated and belonging to the past”?

    • treborc1

      The left I keep hearing about those lefties I’m still looking for them,

  • Tom

    Despite not agreeing with the policy itself, I don’t think it should be characterised as only applying to couples where one works, and the other doesn’t. Plenty of people do work, but earn under the personal allowance threshold, especially if their work is insecure. It doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea to me to move towards a taxation policy based on family units, rather than individuals.

  • Ian

    Whatever happened to JK Rowling? Isn’t it time we wheeled her out again?

  • Sylvia

    What century does he live in? Has he ever heard of women’s rights? Vote Labour.

  • RegisteredHere

    The family lawyers will be pleased: first SSM and now incentives for everyone to get married. If that doesn’t reverse the downward trend in divorces (formal marriage having been in decline for decades), then they’ll have to find another 50p for the lobby meter.

    🙂

  • Monkey_Bach

    Giving a tax break to couples simply because they have participated in a civil or religious ceremony is ridiculous. Why on earth does “commitment” need rewarding?

    Eeek.

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