Why the marriage tax break insults families

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Over the past week David Cameron has laid out his plans to give a tax break to married couples should the Conservative Party win the upcoming General Election.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the Tories had gone all inclusive on us – indeed, they have promised that the tax break will benefit those in civil partnerships as well as heterosexual married couples.

But the reality is that it seeks to reward people who fit a very narrow definition of what it is to be a family, all in the name of promoting ‘values’ and ‘mending Broken Britain’.

Under Cameron’s plans, one member of a low or middle-income couple would be able to transfer £750 of their personal tax allowance to a partner who does not use theirs (either because they do not work or earn less than £6,600), resulting in a maximum tax break of £150. That’s £2.88 per week, in case you haven’t seen much news over the past few days.

Overall it is estimated that this would benefit four million of the country’s 12.3 million married couples.

For one thing it’s insulting and short-sighted that the Tories see marriage as the answer to society’s problems. The mythical golden age before divorce was more common is often held up as a happier and more stable time by right-wing politicians. What they seem to forget is the fact that many unhappy couples stayed together only because it was expected of them, putting up with horrendous lives and abuse as a result.

We all know that families with married couples aren’t always the happiest and most stable – and that plenty of single people and co-habiting couples do a wonderful job of parenting. It’s not rocket science – and yet the Conservatives have sent out a clear message that only certain families, in their opinion, are ‘doing it right’ and will be rewarded accordingly.

The families which don’t fit the mold are consequently stigmatised – whether that’s widowed or single parents – however hard-working and struggling they may be, co-habiting couples who are bringing up their kids in a loving household or families where both parents work. In fact, many of the couples benefiting from the tax break would actually be childless or older couples – strange considering the Conservatives’ supposed commitment to improving the lives of children and setting a good example for future generations.

For many low-income couples, having one person remain at home isn’t an option and it’s essential for both to work so that bills are paid and food gets put on the table. But as far as the Conservatives are concerned, choosing this option will get you nowhere. It’s being made clear that someone – and in heterosexual couples this usually means the woman – should not work in order to be the sort of family Cameron et al believe will make society a better place.

What’s just as bad is that this £2.88 per week is supposed to act as some sort of incentive – whether it’s for people to get married or for one of the couple to stay at home. I very much doubt that it’s going to have the desired effect. Even though plenty of people these days do wish to get married, they often feel they can’t due to the cost of weddings and buying a house. If they do want to get married, I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with wanting less than £3 a week in tax breaks.

The announcement has been met with derision from journalists, the public and other politicians including Gordon Brown. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has described the tax break as “patronising drivel that belongs in the Edwardian age” and I wholeheartedly agree.

As a married woman the whole thing leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth. I work full-time and so does my husband, so we wouldn’t be eligible for the tax break in the first place. But it disgusts me to think that should I have the option not to work, I would be finally considered ‘worthy’ enough to ‘benefit’ from less than £3 a week extra while other families miss out purely because I've got a ring on my finger.

This post originally appeard at BitchBuzz. Image via werty’s Flickr

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