There is a really fascinating discussion of whether the tax system should recognise marriage, on the Guardian podcast today, featuring Iain Duncan Smith, Polly Toynbee, Tim Dowling and the lady from Mumsnet.   I won’t try to summarise it all here – it is 20 minutes long – but I have found it very compelling.

Despite IDS having a decent 2 minutes to have a go at the State of Unmarried Britain – and his being able to say that 70 percent of people, single or otherwise, support such recognition –  I have found the ideas of the others, who are against such State recognition of private arrangements, extremely compelling.

Dowling: “Much as I like the idea of being paid for something I did 15 years ago for entirely different reasons . . .”

is one good quote. The people interviewed in Nappy Valley (Battersea) were also, it seemed, mostly against the idea: ‘Why should I be rewarded for this?’ being a typical comment, and when people expressed approval, there words were often prefaced with ‘Well, I’m married . . . ‘

Mumsnet has also found general hostility to the idea from its often-single parent members.  I think it was the lady from Mumsnet that raised the spectre of ‘Back to Basics’ . . .

Toybnee is also very harsh on the Conservative plans to means-test more services like health visitors, warning of it starting to look like a segregated system, a sort of recognition of being poor and not a good parent, rather than a universal service.

I think we all agree that in an ideal world children would be raised by two loving parents.  In this world, with all its accidents and unfairness, is rewarding those who reach this state in a certain way really the best way of spending ££££s to improve the chances of kids getting a great childhood?

And did I mention that we don’t have very much money to go around on pet schemes?  The Liberal  Democrat leadership  have demonstrated their maturity – and bravery in the face of often passionate grassroots – in abandoning various favourite schemes, because national solvency has to come first.  Does it come first for the Tories as well? Or does pleasing their irrational base get priority?

UPDATE:  The last 5 minutes is primarily about Ed Balls’ parenting advice leaflets.  I don’t happen to agree with his centralising ‘this is how to do it’ approach to matters.  But I personally think he is a fairly good, robust communicator, able to trot out relevant figures – like divorce rates being back down to 1981 levels – in a quick and coherent way.   I remain surprised that he is not taken more seriously as next leader.  However, he is also a bit misleading: I am sure he implied that we are seeing fewer lone parent households – but much as I oppose kneejerk miserabilism, this is not true.


10 thoughts on “Tax breaks for getting married

  1. This is a tricky one…defending marriage is core to Conservatism, or to probably at least three strands of it, i.e. social C., cultural C. (the Salisbury Review type) and traditional C. No one apart from the Tories really cares that much about these things so emphasising the importance of marriage helps to distinguish Tory politics from New Labour stuff. With everyone crowding around the political centre these days this kind of thing becomes necessary. But you’re right, there isn’t that much dosh to go around at the moment so this isn’t really a feasible policy.
    At the end of the day, the tax-break for married couples is a statement of values more than anything else – for besides the question of how to finance it: How do you change an entire culture, or the ways of doing things of an entire population? In my opinion, the Tories are predominantly trying to improve their image by making impressive policy announcements. Implementation is not even a consideration at this stage.

    1. But effective. He attacks well, he has a clear position and seems to know his brief. There are not many effective politicans left there, I reckon.

    1. That is an amazingly good attack line. Plus the fact that their idea seems to give financial incentives to stay at home and not work, even when the kids have flown the coop

  2. Aside from the myriad other problems with and criticisms of this idea, I do wonder if it violates Article 8 of the HRA/ECHR, the “right to respect for his private and family life”?

    Oh yeah, the Tories want to abolish the HRA and it’s not binding on the executive/legislature like the US Constitution is anyway so that won’t bother them.

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