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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas