Opinion: The marriage tax allowance is no free lunch

We could give kids free lunch up to the age of 11 if we did not have this silly marriage tax allowance …..

In my last blog on the marriage tax allowance I wondered what we would gain for Lib Dem acquiescence over the illiberal and expensive marriage tax allowance. It is not what I expected but I quite like it.

In the most obvious bit of horse-trading in this coalition yet we won free school meals for five to seven year olds. (I hope that is as far as the involvement of horses goes – sorry!)

I don’t want to debate here the relative merits or not of free school meals. Evidence shows that it makes a difference. And as policy based on evidence is often in scarce supply it has to be a good thing.

What is more interesting is that as a financial trade off for a policy that is dressed up to be about supporting families with children, the Lib Dems are the only ones actually delivering something that will not only benefit children directly but all children (within the specified age). It will also be of more financial worth to everyone with children (ditto). Not just the few. Apart from the age thing, it is an equal policy, based on evidence, and deliverable. It will still involve forms!

But just in case our MPs are feeling this is a massive big win and so abstaining in a vote for the marriage tax allowance would seem like a nice thing to do, just think, without this silly, unequal, marriage tax allowance we could feed children all the way through their primary school years and not just up to the age of 7.  Think of those poor children when they get to 7, the Lib Dems will be responsible for taking away their free school meal because we made it part of a bargain for a slice of illliberalism.

This may sound far-fetched, but I can see the bullies coming a mile-off. In a few months it will seem like the Tories have managed to deliver a sop to their UKIP leaning members and will also be taking credit for feeding the nations kids (Thatcher took your milk but we are nicer, we bring you fish fingers and peas). Will they snatch this policy away from us like the bully taking lunch money in the playground? I fear so.

We passed an amendment– uncontested – to the conference motion on fairer taxes that: “…. the proposed marriage tax allowance, that would give certain types of married couples a tax break, is discriminatory, unnecessary and expensive . Conference therefore resolves to oppose and repeal the proposed marriage tax allowance at the earliest opportunity.”

So colleagues in Westminster, stand strong. Don’t waver. It is not a free lunch, and is not enough to outweigh the evils of tax breaks for married couples. Remember it only applies to “one earner” couples, with a breadwinner and a homemaker (who has time to make a nutritious packed lunch). So to meet approval, you don’t just have to get married, but you have to get married and one person has to stay at home.

Don’t Judge My Family reminds us that widows and widowers, single parents, cohabiters, single people, couples who both work, and couples earning the very least, don’t have the right sort of marriage in Conservatives eyes. Nice.  And MPs wonder why they are judged so harshly in return.

* Laura Willoughby MBE is a Lib Dem member in Islington

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • To put what Laura is saying in a slightly different light: “just think, by agreeing with this silly, unequal, marriage tax allowance we are able feed all children up to the age of 7”.

    The nice thing about the marriage tax allowance is that it has a set of entitlement rules and is means tested! As any one who has dealings with tax credits will know, such rules will soon get changed to further restrict entitlement and reduce the value of the allowance. Additionally, because of the need to keep government spending in check, a key fight against the marriage tax allowance will be to ensure that the government doesn’t create a whole new bureaucracy to administer it – the scheme should only require a relatively minor change to HMRC’s existing systems.

  • Daniel Henry 3rd Oct '13 - 1:01pm

    I hear that the marriage tax allowance won’t come in until 2016, which means if the Conservatives aren’t in government after the next election then it can be easily repealed before it even takes effect.

  • Personally I think between now and the general election we should consider running a campaign challenging the Tories to reallocate the £600million for the marriage tax allowance to the school meals budget and say that if they won’t we would.

  • @Robert
    I think that is a good idea, as it also prompts the question: So Ed what are going to do about school meals?

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