Election '97: Taxman's boost for family fortunes Tax break Family values

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Indy Politics
Lisa Bates takes her three-year-old daughter Jennifer to a playgroup three days a week. At a cost of pounds 5 a day this means she has already spent more than her weekly family allowance of pounds 10.10 before counting the other expenses of bringing up a young child.

In theory, John Major's proposal to transfer Mrs Bates's unused tax allowance of around pounds 17 a week to her husband, Rick, should be welcome in their household.

"It is certainly better than nothing and will probably help up to a point," said Mrs Bates.

"Apart from the playgroup, I spend another pounds 25 a week on clothes and food for Jennifer."

Mrs Bates, 27, gave up work as a legal executive for Westminster Council in London three years ago when Jennifer was born. Her husband, 33, earns pounds 20,500 as a purchasing officer for the Medical Research Council. Their major expense is a mortgage for their home in Harrow, Middlesex, which costs them pounds 537 a month - leaving them about pounds 600 a month for other expenses. An extra pounds 68 a month amounts to a increase in the region of 10 per cent.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the Prime Minister's plan will not secure him the Bates's votes on 1 May.

"We vote Liberal Democrat and this is not enough to change our minds," said Mrs Bates. "The Tories have done enough damage.

"I don't think we'd really notice any benefit. Transferring the tax allowance will just appear as a tiny rise in Rick's pay slip. It will just get swallowed up in all the bills."

Mrs Bates would be more impressed if the tax break was instead incorporated into child benefit.

"I would rather they increased the family allowance which is just not enough," she said.

"It would make me feel a bit more independent and I could look at a real figure which could be spent on Jennifer.

"After all, it is my allowance."

How the carers' tax break would work

z Under the proposed Married Couples' Allowance, the employed partner of a non-employed carer would receive double the normal personal allowance (pounds 8090 rather than pounds 4045). The carer's personal allowance is in effect added onto the earner's own.

z The basic rate of income tax (23 per cent), which would in previous years have been levied on the second pounds 4045 earned by the breadwinner, would no longer be paid under the policy. So the Government would subsidise carers' partners who earn pounds 8090 or more, to the tune of pounds 930 per year.

z If the carer is earning enough to pay income tax (that is, more than his or her personal allowance), he or she does not qualify for the Married Couples' Allowance. If the carer earns some money, but not enough to be taxed, the amount he or she earns is deducted from the personal allowance figure to be added onto the earner's personal allowance.

z Approximately 1.8 million couples, or 6.9 per cent of the 26 million taxpayers in the UK, are in the position where one married partner cares for children and the other works. The allowance applies to those caring for the disabled, as well as to those caring for children.

z The Conservatives estimated the cost of implementing the policy at pounds 1.2bn yesterday, Labour at up to pounds 5bn. Replying to questions from Denis Macshane on 11 March, Michael Jack, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: "The estimated full year cost at 1997-98 income levels of allowing couples to transfer their unused personal allowance to their spouse is estimated to be pounds 3.4 billion."

Compiled by Ben Summers