Liberal Democrat MPs may be bound by the Coalition Agreement, but that shouldn’t stop us campaigning against judgemental Tory marriage tax break

Wedding ringsWay back in May 2010, I divided the Coalition Agreement into The Good, The Meh and the “Bring me the gin now.” What do you think the very first item on the “lock me in a cupboard with a bottle of gin when they vote on this list” was?

“We also agree that provision will be made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples without prejudice to this coalition agreement.”

Ok, it’s tokenistic but the principle is so plain wrong that abstention isn’t good enough. I am not chuffed we have caved on this.

And there is a bit of me that really doesn’t care what we’ve got for it, but I have to recognise that  nourishing all kids is a Very Good Thing. In fact, by the terms of the Agreement we weren’t due anything in return for a Tory marriage tax break, so I do wonder if the strategy in Nick Clegg’s office has been more in terms of giving the Tories enough rope. He was explicit about the differences in our respective values in his speech to the Glasgow Conference:

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples. A tax break for some, funded through the taxes of everybody else – that tells you everything you need to know about their values.

We, however, will help all families in these tough times, not just the kind we like best, by helping their young children get the best possible start in life – and that tells you everything about our values. Providing this kind of help, Liberal Democrats, is now, the most important thing we can do.

Let me tell you about two friends of mine. They have been together for not far off 40 years. They have seen each other through all sorts of traumas, Depression and Cancer among them. They have a strong, loving, committed relationship that is plain to all who know them. How very dare David Cameron suggest that their unshakeable partnership is any less valid than his because they are not married?

The Prime Minister’s  article in today’s Daily Mail will make virtually every Liberal Democrat shudder with horror:

There is something special about marriage: it’s a declaration of commitment, responsibility and stability that helps to bind families. The values of marriage are give and take, support and sacrifice – values that we need more of in this country.

Excuse me, aren’t the values of any successful relationship about give and take, support and sacrifice? If you read the whole article, it actually demolishes its own case. He admits that you don’t need to be married to build a strong family. This tax break is little more than a sop to their own voters. He even has the cheek to suggest that the Coalition is doing loads to help all families, like tax free childcare and a tax cut for 25 million people. You know, that tax cut he said was too expensive and which Nick Clegg fought for.

Liberal Democrats knew this was coming. We voted for the Coalition Agreement in May 2010 and having slated the Tories for ditching Lords Reform, it would be very difficult to go back on that. This does not mean that we should be silent. We should take every opportunity to ridicule this horribly discriminatory idea which would reward abusers and philanderers and penalise widowed and vulnerable people.

My head gets what Clegg says and the way he’s using this to show the difference between our values and those of the Conservatives. If our bit of give in the Coalition Agreement is this rather than taking Housing Benefit off under 25s, abolishing the Human Rights Act or stopping Child Benefit for third and subsequent children then so be it, but I don’t have to like it. And, for my friends, I am not going to shut up about it.

If you feel the same way, the Don’t Judge my Family campaign is but a click away. Join them and help them.

Now, where’s that gin….?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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40 Comments

  • Yup, this.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Sep '13 - 8:52am

    I had a feeling you might agree with me on this:-)

  • Peter Davies 28th Sep '13 - 9:29am

    Of course the judgemental moralising is sickening but the bill is entirely tokenism with no real effect. If you want to see real lifestyle discrimination, look at the 20% penalty imposed on all couples (formal or “living as man and wife”) by the benefits system and the way it and the tax system discriminate against single-earner couples.

  • Gareth, I can’t see any of our lot voting for it. CA obliges us to abstain.

  • I honestly don’t see why transferable tax allowances for married couples is such a red line for some people. This is far less of an issue than the Liberal Democrats enabling market forces to break the Health Service, or backtracking on commitments about tuition fees.

    One of the biggest factors that lead to breakup – if not the biggest – is household finances. And it’s an area where the State can help, by treating partnerships as a single financial unit. And when the State gets involved in such areas, we want government to operate efficiently as possible . And if an efficient mechanism involves checking against those in marriages/civil partnerships, then so be it.

    No-one’s holding a gun to peoples’ heads, forcing them to formalise their relationships. Are they?
    Some people who complain vociferously about this issue really need to have a word with themselves.

  • I call it the “smug tax break”

  • Andrew Emmerson 28th Sep '13 - 11:02am

    I find it pretty amazing that this was written with absolutely no reference to our free school meals policy.

    Ever media source has made it clear that this was a trade off. As far as the marriage tax allowance policy goes – it’s up there with the stupidest of tory plans I agree, but it if means keeping quiet to get through FSMs then im happy to take that hit. The tories were going to press and press and press to get it through – and we’ve got something good in exchange vive la coalition.

    That’s not to say we can’t be against the policy, but let’s understand it in context, and that if we get it stopped do we risk our free school meals plan?

  • Widow tax

  • The one thing I note is that this is costing about the same as the free school meals policy. A quick calculation thus implies that instead of doing this, free school meals could be given to all children up to 11 (so all primary school children in most of the country) instead of 8.

  • This marriage tax break is ridiculous and so discriminatory.

    I am in a a civil partnership, I do not see why me or my partner should be able to transfer some of our tax allowance to the other partner.
    We do not have children, we will never have children. How is it fair that we could see a tax break just because we are in a civil partnership, when a single, mum, widow, unmarried couples are not given the same tax break.

    We have both paid a lot in tax over the years, before I became to i’ll to work. We never once grumbled about the amount of tax we where paying. We felt it was our civic duty to contribute towards the costs of Children, children s education, after all, it is the next generation that will be supporting us in our old age through medicine, services for which will depend on.
    Admitting, due to the severity of my illnesses and the sheer amount of resources that I take up within the NHS and healthcare, I will have probably now have taken out far more, than I ever put in, in my lifetime.

    This marriage tax break is ludicrous and a stain on our society in my opinion.

    I am still not convinced by the free school meals for all children between the ages of 5 and 7 either. I still feel that half a Billion pounds could have been better directed at targeting those that need it the most. If the argument exists and is proven that children perform better who have sat down to a proper meal, then I believe a breakfast club should have been introduced instead. Breakfast clubs are used widely in Australia in schools, especially in deprived area’s where children were coming to school on empty stomachs. School started half an hour early so all children could sit down to a breakfast before the start of school should the parents decide to use it.
    Surely if the evidence supports that a proper meal helps the child learn better and quicker, the breakfast club makes more sense because the child would reap the benefits for the first 4 lessons and not just from a lunch which would only have an affect on the last 2 lessons of the day.

    I also do not believe in the Nanny state dictating to parents what they should and should not feed their children, Those parents that can afford to feed their children adequately should do so and not receive support from the taxpayer to do so. The free school meals policy has no effect on those from the poorest households because they are already eligible for free school meals.
    I fully recognize that there are those families who fall through the net and do not claim Free school meals who should be entitled and many do not because of the Stigma that has been attached to those claiming welfare.
    If this is of concern to the Liberal Democrats then as a party of government they should be going out of their way to remove the stigmatization against those in receipt of welfare, instead of supporting the Tories Right Wing Agenda and Ideology which is doing just that, constantly vilifying those on welfare, supported by their buddies from the right wing media. It is in the Liberal Democrats constitution to campaign against this sort of segregation and attacks on the poorest people in society and yet I see very little evidence of them doing so.
    A policy that introduces free school meals for all children between the ages of 5-7 is absolutely no substitute for the failings of the party in it’s policies which are supposed to put an end to child poverty….
    I am still wary of the old saying that there is no such a thing as a free lunch.

    I suspect that not only will the Tories get their Marriage Tax Break out of this, but we will also see further announcements to welfare cuts in the chancellors Autumn Statements.
    There is much speculation already that this is going to be the case and I think the Liberal Democrats will get a huge hammering from the public if they allow this to happen again.

  • Andrew Emmerson, the free school meals policy was actually put forward by Michael Gove in early summer. Disingenuous to pretend this was a Lib Dem policy won by conceding on a marriage tax. The Tories support both!

    To be honest, if I were a Lib Dem I’d just stand clear while the policy implodes. It has met with a less than favourable reaction by most of today’s press and commentators, other than dyed in the wool old school tories. It’s not going to win over floating voters, and may in fact scare them off.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 28th Sep '13 - 1:10pm

    To put this into perspective – the Lib Dem part of the Coalition is giving free school meals to under 8s while the Conservatives are giving a tiny weeny tax break to single income married couples as long as they are below the 40p tax threshold . It isn’t going to all married/ civil partner couples, only to a relatively small number. At £3.85 a week, it’s a pathetic amount being given to a pathetic number of people. If Cameron really wanted to support single earner couples then he would be proposing to allow them to transfer a lot more than 10% of their tax allowance.
    Let’s not focus on this, it will benefit so few people. Our proposal is so much better and benefits every family with children.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 28th Sep '13 - 1:10pm

    To put this into perspective – the Lib Dem part of the Coalition is giving free school meals to under 8s while the Conservatives are giving a tiny weeny tax break to single income married couples as long as they are below the 40p tax threshold . It isn’t going to all married/ civil partner couples, only to a relatively small number. At £3.85 a week, it’s a pathetic amount being given to a pathetic number of people. If Cameron really wanted to support single earner couples then he would be proposing to allow them to transfer a lot more than 10% of their tax allowance.
    Let’s not focus on this, it will benefit so few people. Our proposal is so much better and benefits every family with children.

  • “Let me tell you about two friends of mine. … How very dare David Cameron suggest that their unshakeable partnership is any less valid than his because they are not married?”

    Because in the eyes of our legal system it is less valid than a partnership that has been formalised through marriage.
    That is also why many campaigned for same sex couples to be able to get married, or are you implying that these people were deluded in their thinking?

  • Depressing – the BBC explanation on the 14:00 news was wrong in every respect.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Sep '13 - 5:11pm

    I think it’s got to the point now where we can’t sound too outraged over things such as transferable personal allowances for married couples who aren’t higher rate taxpayers, because of how dirty our own hands are.

    We all now live in an outrage glass house, only the staunchest of neo-conservatives would have agreed with all our policies on Syria, privatisations, welfare cuts and corporate welfare. These aren’t coalition policies either, they are Lib Dem ones.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Sep '13 - 6:50pm

    Andrew Emmerson, I explicitly mentioned the trade off & commented on Nick Clegg’s strategy which appears to be giving the Tories enough rope. I mean, the electorate may well judge them for blowing money on something so useless.

    We won’t vote for this in Parliament but it would be good if a national groundswell of opinion forced it to be dropped.

  • We have allowed far worse than this through.

  • Peter Watson 29th Sep '13 - 12:47am

    @g “the free school meals policy was actually put forward by Michael Gove in early summer.”
    I think Ed Balls (by 5 years) and the SNP also beat Lib Dems to what Clegg modestly called “my idea … a Lib Dem idea”.
    It seems that Lib Dems and Tories have colluded to carve up a billion pounds per year and use it to bribe a particular part of the electorate with payments timed to begin in the run up to the 2015 general election. At least the tories are keeping a pre-election pledge,whilst Lib Dems simply seem to be devaluing the Pupil Premium by passing money to the families who did not benefit directly from it.

  • Chris Randall 29th Sep '13 - 12:22pm

    Before you all go on about what agood idea free school meals here is some information I wrote to the local paper with nabout the very first pilot.

    Cllr Chris Randall
    Guildhall Hull Daily Mail
    Hull Blundell’s Corner
    18 Sep 07

    Dear ,
    I have a few comments to make on universal free school meals in primary schools but first I would like to establish a few facts.
    • All these figures come from Hull City Council Children’s Services.
    • They do not include the extras like £370,000 paid to Hull University to complete the evaluation.
    • The true cost of a free school lunch is £2.17 (£5,053,300 ÷ 2,331,490).
    • There are 192 working days in a school year.
    • Another 11p per meal had to be added to the ingredient costs because we were not meeting the government level for ingredients thus making the annual costs if universal free school meals rocket even further to an estimated £5, 315,797.

    Number of children on primary school rolls 2002 – 2003 21,610
    2006 – 2007 19,264

    Number of meals served in primary schools 2002 – 2003 2,224,690
    2006 – 2007 2.331,490

    Cost to council of primary school lunches 2002 – 2003 £1,900,000
    2006 – 2007 £5,053,300

    So cost of meals for 2006 – 2007 if the status quo had remained
    = £1,900,000 ÷ 21610 × 19640
    = £1,693,734 because of the drop in roll numbers.

    Number of meals served 2002 – 2003 2,224,064 ÷ 21,610 = 102.95 meals per child per year
    2006 – 2007 2,331,490 ÷ 19,264 = 121.03 meals per child per year

    Take up of meals 2002 – 2003 102.95 ÷ 192 × 100 = 53.62%
    2006 – 2007 121.03 ÷ 192 × 100 = 63.03%

    Therefore the percentage point rise in take up is 63.03% – 53.62% = 9.41%
    It is therefore clear that the cost of an increase in take up of 9.41% is
    (£5,053,300 – £1,693,734) ÷ (2,331, 490 – 2,224,690)
    = £3,359,566 ÷ 106,800
    = £31.46 per extra free school lunch served each day.

    There is no way I could support a system that takes money from those with need and gives it to the better off, nor do I believe the people of Hull do either. I do support free school lunches where there is a need and a 51% subsidy for all others, which would mean help for those in need with school uniform. In fact a return to how it always was, for at least the last half century, in which I received free school meals when my dad was out of work. This was without feeling shame or discriminated against because no one knew or cared about my circumstances even in 1960.
    I find it hard to believe that out of a potential of 1095 meals per year 121 meals are going to make that much difference. This only equals 11.59 % of the total potential meals a year at 3 meals a day.
    There is a price to being a parent, that is a responsibility to feed, clothe, love, teach, explain and nurture in every way your child. It is not expected in any society that the vulnerable on small fixed incomes should support those who are better off. This is not about children it is about common sense and fairness for all, especially when you consider the costs above.

    Yours sincerely

    Cllr Chris Randall

  • Julian Tisi 29th Sep '13 - 3:18pm

    I agree with the headline of this article – that despite having agreed that we would not oppose some sort of marriage tax allowance in the Coalition Agreement this doesn’t prevent us from ridiculing this measure. In fact it might serve us as a party well. We’ve made absolutely clear that we’ve gained a really good quid pro quo for this policy – free school meals for all under 8s. We have a really good message here – that coalition demands compromise, that we don’t therefore agree with everything we’re doing in government – but crucially that on the big ticket items we’re winning even if we don’t win every battle – therefore we were right to compromise. It’s quite a complex message but we need all of it if we’re to educate the public about coalition and our role in it.

    This is where I disagree with Caron – I think we were absolutely right to compromise. We’ve gained something really important (free school meals for under 8s) and conceded a token gesture which will as Elizabeth Jewkes says “will benefit so few people. Our proposal is so much better and benefits every family with children.”

  • Peter Watson 29th Sep '13 - 3:56pm

    @Julian Tisi “I think we were absolutely right to compromise”
    Where is the evidence that there was a compromise or even a negotiation?
    All of the evidence seems to point to the Lib Dems being the last party to support universal free school meals yet now it is being claimed as a great victory, the cost of which is a tax allowance that nobody apart from the tories want.

  • As far as I can see it, within the coalition agreement, Tory MPs could vote against the Marriage Tax Break, but Lib Dem MPs have to abstain. Interesting.

  • Chris Randall: it seems to me that the issue with the cost of school meals in Hull is not one of the marginal cost of providing more meals, which is the argument you are drawing from your statistics, but rather why the cost of meals overall (even discounting the additional 11p for better ingredients) rose from £1.9 million in 2002/3 to £5.053 million in 2006/7.

  • I was OK about the wording in the coalition agreement, but I have the impression that our MPs will vote for transferable tax allowances for married couples (including same sex) and civil partnership couples because a deal was done to support this so 5 to 7 year olds would all get free school meals (a policy supported by the Conservatives and not Lib Dem party policy [at last someone else is saying this, thanks Gareth Epps]). So to me it is a double whammy!

    If I am correct and a deal was done and our MPS vote for transferable tax allowances it will be very hard to campaign against them in the short term. If a deal was done we could have ended the “bedroom tax” instead with £250m per year left over to do something about increasing the number of parents whose children are eligible for free school meals (as I stated https://www.libdemvoice.org/clegg-every-primary-school-pupil-should-be-able-to-sit-down-to-a-hot-healthy-lunch-with-their-classmates-every-day-36271.html)

    Matt again makes out the case that free school breakfasts would have been better and points out that this MUST not be paid for by further welfare cuts.

  • Andrew Colman 30th Sep '13 - 9:19am

    I am much more sympathetic with this transferable tax allowance than subsidizing childcare which is an indirect subsidy of low wage employers and discourages parents from carrying out their responsibilities

  • Andrew Colman 30th Sep '13 - 9:19am

    I am much more sympathetic with this transferable tax allowance than subsidizing childcare which is an indirect subsidy of low wage employers and discourages parents from carrying out their responsibilities

  • ‘One of the biggest factors that lead to breakup – if not the biggest – is household finances. And it’s an area where the State can help, by treating partnerships as a single financial unit.’ Martin Lowe. This seems to have slipped into the debate without anyone noticing. Does anyone recall the campaign for separate taxation for married women so that they could file their own tax returns and not be forced to declare their income to their husband when he did not have to declare his? I’d willingly trade a few pounds in tax allowance for this freedom even if I don’t actually take it up.

  • Rachel Coleman Finch 30th Sep '13 - 4:51pm

    Andrew Colman: You seem to be saying that parents using childcare are being irresponsible. I find that pretty insulting. I have two children; my husband and I both work outside the home; we use nursery and after-school care for our children while we are out earning the money that pays for home, food, childcare etc. I don’t think that’s abandoning our responsibilities, I think that’s balancing the need for income, for good care for the children, and our own personal capacities and preferences.

  • Peter Watson 30th Sep '13 - 5:33pm

    @Rachel Coleman Finch
    As one of two working parents, I interpreted Andrew Colman’s comments to mean that it is a parent’s responsibility to provide or pay for childcare, and I hope it was not a slight against those of us who use nurseries, childminders, etc.
    I must admit that it is difficult to justify to workers without young children that it is a good use of the tax that they pay if it is to subsidise care of my children in order for me to earn more.

  • Andrew Colman 4th Oct '13 - 12:58pm

    I am not against parents are using childcare to do a well paid job. In this situation everyone benefits, country, parent and child and no subsidy is needed. What I do not support is parents leaving there children in childcare to do a poorly paid job subsidised by the taxpayer. The low pay suggests the job is not valuable and I believe the parent would be doing a more valuable job giving his or her time to caring for the child.

  • Rachel Coleman Finch 14th Oct '13 - 11:28am

    Andrew: there are a great many jobs which are not well-paid, but which do require qualifications and experience, and for which a lengthy period out of the job may make it very hard to get back in again. Veterinary nurses, nursery workers & carers are the ones that I know people personally in (funnily enough, all careers which are dominated by women and all low-paid). The idea that a job’s value to society is measured by its pay packet would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. What about all those people who work for charities at much lower salaries than in the private sector?

    On my Open University course on Personal Finance, we covered the effects on lifetime earnings of having children – low-paid women find it much harder to get back into full-time work once their children are grown than highly-paid women, with a consequent effect on their lifetime income and pension entitlements. (According to the texbook, the lifetime earnings of men aren’t affected by their parental status – this is presumably because the burden of childcare still falls primarily on women, and I would hope this is slowly changing with transferable parental leave and a greater value placed by society on men taking care of their children.)

    Subsidising childcare means that poor parents as well as rich can have a career and keep their skills up-to-date. I’d prefer to see better pay and better-valued jobs and less subsidy from the state too, but I think subsidised childcare is vital.

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