Budget 1999: As a high-earning mother, I expected to feel betrayed. Instead, I'm euphoric

AS A married New Labour voter in a high-income tax bracket, with a mortgage and a moral objection as a big earner to claiming child benefit for my son, I'm one of the people who have been told for days on end that I ought to feel betrayed by the much-leaked contents of Chancellor Gordon Brown's third budget. Instead I'm euphoric.

I'm most delighted about the abolition of the married couples' tax allowance. Like Gordon Brown, I'm not afraid of stating unequivocally that I consider a conventional family structure to be the ideal framework for bringing up children. And, like New Labour, I don't believe that tax breaks for adults who are married or living together are of any help at all when it comes to making that ever-more-beleaguered structure work well.

Anyway, the much-propagated idea that all the financial benefits of being married are being eroded is simply not true. For example, if your spouse isn't earning you can put your savings into his or her name, and avoid paying up to about pounds 4,000 in tax on them because of your partner's unused tax allowance. Or you can make financial gifts to your spouse without paying capital gains tax. Or you can live safe in the knowledge that anything you leave to your spouse in your will is free of inheritance tax. And so on. There are still plenty of fiscal advantages to being married, without the state giving further handouts from the public purse.

I've always found it patently obvious that two can live more cheaply than one, and when two people on large incomes sell two flats, buy a house and pool their resources in matrimony, it seems to me that they're much better off anyway - especially since their pooled income might take them into a higher tax bracket if men's and women's taxation were not now calculated separately.

Giving them a couple of hundred quid a year in tax benefits because they're being in some way "upright" is insulting not only to the people who either choose or are forced to live and bring up their children in a different structure, but also to the institution it is designed to reward.

However, it is, of course, when the children come along that the finances of couples are thrown into confusion. Which is why the replacement of the married person's allowance with children's tax credit is absolutely the correct way forward. Although the pounds 416 credit will not come into operation until April 2001, it is still fantastic news and infinitely superior to the anomalous married person's allowance. The fact that it will taper away for high-earning families is again good news. While means testing should be avoided, public money should not be squandered on further treats for affluent children, either.

For different reasons, I'm relieved that there will be no tax for the time being on child benefit for families in high tax brackets. While I don't claim child benefit myself, it is true that even within wealthy families mothers can be kept cash-starved by controlling partners. That is why the benefit should remain independent of all other family earnings. I do, however, believe that it should be a matter of conscience for well- off families as to whether they in fact claim benefit. Tony and Cherie Blair don't set much of an example here, and neither do many other left- leaning affluent couples. This may be because there is no mechanism whereby unclaimed child benefit can be redirected to help poorer children. Child benefit should never be taxed, but it might be a good idea if better-off families were encouraged to covenant their benefit into one or other of the Government's ever-more dynamic schemes to target particularly needy families.

It need hardly be added that another rise in child benefit, to pounds 15 a week for the first child and pounds 10 a week for subsequent children, is also excellent news. While the childless are often heard complaining that they subsidise the welfare and education of children enough already, Gordon Brown's prediction that "while children now make up 20 per cent of our population, in the future they will make up 100 per cent of our population" should surely console them that at least this state of affairs will not continue for ever. Or maybe Mr Brown was simply suffering a moment of confusion on a day of crystal clarity.

I feel a little disappointment that Mr Brown has chosen not to offer tax benefits to couples when one of them decides to give up work, and be a parent full-time.

And again, while it is good news that benefits will continue when lone parents first start work, there is still not quite enough recognition from this Government that full-time parenting for pre-school children is also an investment in the future of the country, and a choice that is difficult for families who made their financial commitments on the basis of two incomes.

But I'm more than happy about the abolition of Miras. This is a reward for being affluent enough to get a mortgage together and make an investment for the future. There's no tax relief if you're paying an extortionate rent, and in that case you don't get to flog the property for a whacking profit when you manage to move out. So it's always seemed unfair to me that everyone who has a mortgage can claim tax relief. Again, lots of people just don't need that kind of state handout.

However, there is a difficulty here with the many people on the margins of owner-occupation. While the Government believes that this is a good time to abolish Miras because interest rates are low, the fact is that low interest rates have not made the tiniest dent in repossessions. Some mortgage lenders start repossession proceedings when as few as two mortgage payments have been missed. And while the Government is encouraging people to take out mortgage indemnity insurance, it's obvious that those who need it most are least likely to be among the one in five mortgage holders who are finding the money to afford it.

I suppose you could argue, with some moral force, that other measures in the Budget that are designed to decrease the tax burden on the poor more than compensate for the loss of Miras.

But since the problem is so huge, I'd argue that it needs separate attention anyway. The most sensible suggestion I've heard for dealing with this problem, which, of course, devastates many families, was floated by the Institute of Housing last year. It believes that there should be schemes up and down the country whereby families who find themselves unable to cope with their mortgage payments should have the option of teaming up with housing associations that can take over part-ownership of homes, thus cutting the mortgage commitment of the family and at the same time investing in the property themselves. Surely this is preferable to the current system, whereby there is little or no help for families in danger of losing their homes. This is the major gap in a Budget that is otherwise a triumph for the parents and the children of this country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'