We can’t afford welfare for disabled people, but apparently we can afford a marriage tax break

This marriage tax allowance is nothing more than the state tutting at those who do not meet its expectations

Share

The Tories have spent the last three years triumphantly wailing “There’s no money left!” at opponents of their slash-and-burn policies. There has always been dosh lying around for their pet projects, of course: more than three billion to privatise the NHS here, money to absorb cutting taxes for millionaires there, or an apparently limitless amount for HS2. And now it turns out they have £700m a year to throw at making state-sanctioned judgements about people’s families and how we choose to express our love for each other.

On one level, the proposed marriage tax allowance – a taxpayer-funded scrap of red meat for frothing-at-the-mouth Tory backbenchers – is an embarrassing joke. Two-thirds of married couples won’t even benefit, and those who do will have an extra £3.84 a week to play with. Given that the going rate of an average wedding these days is £18,000, it would take them just 90 years of marital bliss (or angst) before the allowance covers the big day itself. If a single couple is incentivised to marry by this naked, not-so-cheap attempt to assuage the Tory Taliban, they would make a fascinating and baffling case study. And if this is, indeed, a pre-election bribe, an extra £200 a year hardly compensates for the annual £1,500 that has been emptied from the average Briton’s pockets since Nick Clegg and David Cameron exchanged their own vows.

It is insulting on another level, too. The “bedroom tax” is surely one of the cruelest and most unjust policies inflicted by a British government on its own people since the war: an attempt to force people with almost nothing, to cough up money they don’t have, to drive people into downsized homes that don’t exist, to collectively punish families for the failure of successive governments to build council housing. And yet it allegedly saves around £470m a year, and that’s without taking into account the costly impact of driving families into the more expensive private rented sector. A pathetic gimmick that has every–thing to do with crude internal politicking will cost more than a policy, that has inflicted incalculable misery on hundreds of thousands of families – married or not – will supposedly save.

Now, I’m at that age where friends seem to be  bending on one knee to their beloved other halves every other week. I’m about to become best man for the first time, one of the greatest honours of my life. I have a bit of a soft spot for weddings, which may jar with the more radical instincts of some: they are quite a sweet way to express love, herd close friends and relatives in one place and have an almighty piss-up. I’m also uncle to two beautiful children, being raised by parents as loving and devoted as any, who have chosen not to splash out on a marriage ceremony. The idea that a marital certificate would have any impact on their family is self-evidently farcical. It is not for the state to judge that one sort of family is better than another.

This marriage tax allowance is nothing more than the state tutting at those who do not meet its expectations. It is an attempt to bribe people into a narrow view of what constitutes a good family. Widowers and widows, single parents, women escaping abusive marriages in a country where a million face domestic abuse a year, those yet to meet The One – all will now be effectively subsidising the marriages of others. The money will then go straight into the pockets of a man – who will get a pint a week on the state, even if he repeatedly abandons his family for another. It reinforces the model of a family being promoted by the Government’s cuts: a bread-winning father and stay-at-home mother.

It is completely out of sync with the realities of the modern family. One in four children now grow up with a single parent. Nearly half of all children are born to unmarried adults. Married people are now a minority in England and Wales, the proportion having fallen from 51 per cent in 2001 to 47 per cent in 2011. These are the figures that depress those demanding that the state drag people to the altar. But the truth is a statement of the obvious. Marriage can be loving, tender, brimming with companionship. It can also be horrible, full of punching, screaming, and psychological abuse. It is not an innately good or bad thing.

Members of the marriage lobby claim that the institution is better for children. And yet, according to the Children’s Society, a child’s well-being is far more strongly influenced by the level of family conflict than by its structure. In fact, the suggestion that children do better with married parents is mixing up causation and correlation. Marriage is becoming an increasingly middle-class institution. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies points out, “cohabiting parents are typically less educated, younger, and have a lower household income than married parents, and they may also differ in their relationship quality and stability.” We already know that children from more affluent backgrounds do better – they have better housing, a better diet, are exposed to a broader vocabulary from an earlier age, and so on – and their parents are more likely to be married.

Yet, for all their preaching about the traditional family, it is the Tories who have done most to trash it. The 1980s and 1990s saw a dramatic decline in marriages and surging numbers of single parents. Recent research in the US has shown that job insecurity plays a key role in the falling marriage rate. High Thatcherism was a time of rapid de-industrialisation, leaving entire communities bereft of secure work: no wonder marriage rates collapsed.

Labour should be tackling this dogma with genuine pro-family policies. A living wage would help drag working families out of poverty: after all, they currently constitute the majority of Britain’s burgeoning poor. A house-building programme would provide security, tackle overcrowding and combat poverty, promoting the health, education and well-being of children. Creating secure work with an industrial strategy and taking on zero-hour contracts would help give families stability. Decent child care would enable more parents to work. Expanding SureStart and investing in nursery education would help narrow the yawning gap between the affluent and the impoverished child.

It is an indictment of Cameron’s Britain that cuts have left women’s refuges turning away 230 people fleeing domestic violence a day, while the state splashes out on the institution of marriage. The traditional battle cry of the right is that the state should keep out of the affairs of the individual, and yet here they are making state-sanctioned judgements about personal choice. Andy Coulson once warned Cameron that a perception the Prime Minister did not like single parents was “electoral halitosis” – at least one bit of sense from the now-disgraced spin-doctor. This is not a story of commitment, it is a story of divorce – a Tory divorce from reality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'