The Independent View: Help, don’t judge – better uses for the £700 million marriage tax break cash

Don't judge advent calendarAnother Westminster set piece, another piece of the jigsaw for David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance. This Thursday the Chancellor gives his Autumn Statement. With the economic upturn shaky at best we can expect little in the way of good news and plenty more squeezing of budgets. Except, that is, for the little matter of the £700m the Conservatives are gearing up to spend on giving tax breaks for married couples. The Chancellor is expected to give more detail on this policy, which even its supporters believe is only of symbolic value.

With austerity set to continue, perhaps for years, it might seem odd that the Prime Minister has chosen to champion using these funds in this way. After all, it is not as if it will lead to anyone getting, or staying, married. Most married couples, including those who are both working, don’t have the ‘right kind of marriage’to qualify as they don’t have a breadwinner and a homemaker. They therefore won’t get anything. And neither will widows, widowers, single parents or cohabiting couples.  Only 18% of families with children will benefit from marriage tax breaks.

At Dont Judge My Family, the campaign against the marriage tax allowance, we don’t believe that Government should be spending public money promoting their ideal ‘fantasy 1950s family‘. In these tough times, the government should be helping people not judging them. So we asked for suggestions for better ideas. How might the Government better use £700m a year to support families, sustain relationships or give children the best start in life? We received hundreds of well thought through and passionate responses and yesterday we launched a report detailing some of these.

So what might be better than a marriage tax allowance? For a start, what about increased access to relationship counselling? Something which might actually help save a struggling relationship unlike the proposed marriage tax break. Alternatively perhaps the Government could cancel its proposed cuts to benefits for widowed parents? Many predict this will mean widowed parents having to work full-time instead of spending time with their bereaved children. Or what about scrapping the Bedroom Tax? Something which is causing stress and misery for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families yet is predicted to save only £470m a year. Far less than the amount the Chancellor has put aside to ‘send a signal’ about marriage.

Several of our respondents supported widened access to free school meals for primary school children. Lib Dem Voice readers will recognise this as a policy proposal from Nick Clegg which has apparently been agreed in return for Lib Dem support for marriage tax breaks. Unlike the marriage tax allowance free school meals are supported by a growing evidence base. However the key issue for Lib Dems is what could be done with the additional £700m which the Conservatives wish to waste on marriage tax breaks. Could free school meals be rolled out to more children more quickly? This shouldn’t be about either one or the other but about finding the best use for the nation’s scarce funds. The Coalition Agreement permits Lib Dem MPs to abstain on any marriage tax allowance vote. However we think they should go much further and oppose this scandalous waste of public money which could instead be used so much more productively. And who can say what the future holds for marriage tax breaks once introduced. Lib Dem MPs might believe they are only permitting a small transferable allowance but it could be that for their Coalition counterparts this is only the beginning.

The Conservatives may believe that sending a signal about marriage is worth £700m a year. However we believe that great families come in all shapes and sizes and that the Government’s job is to help families, not judge them. This December we’re showcasing twenty four great ideas, all of which are loads better than a marriage tax allowance, in our Help Dont Judge advent calendar. Why not take a look and find out how £700m could be better spent supporting families, sustaining relationships or giving children the best start in life.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Jenny Allen is a co-habiting mum of two and member of the Don't Judge My Family campaign.

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7 Comments

  • At the same time, the cap breaks up marriages by penalising those who live in London (near their jobs) and pushes families to split to reduce their “household” and fit below the cap.

    There’s also the benefit cut-off “sanctions” that mean people are left without any income for months on end if they lose their job, and end up starving and homeless. Its horrific, you’d have to be some kind of psychopath to come up with that.

  • Stuart Mitchell 4th Dec '13 - 6:53pm

    I had a look at your campaign’s website, and what I saw was a cartoon of a family not dissimilar to my own (husband, wife, son & daughter) alongside the slogan: “Sign up now to show David Cameron that his fantasy fifties family has no place in modern Britain.”

    Jenny, would you please stop judging my family?

  • Peter Tyzack 5th Dec '13 - 10:10am

    Yes, spend it all on relationship counselling and bedroom tax relief. By the latter I mean that I agree with the principle behind the spare room subsidy, but when a benefit is being changed then it should be phased, ie introduced to new tenancies first.

  • Peter Davies 5th Dec '13 - 10:15am

    Both sides of this argument seem to concentrate on the effects on the same mythical family. Nobody in this country is currently living in the 1950s. There is however major discrimination on the basis of family configuration. A couple where all the earnings come from one earner will be taxed up to about £3000 more than one where the same earnings are split between two partners. The gap has increased under this government due to the increased personal allowance and child-benefit withdrawal based on ‘breadwinner’ rather than household income. The real profile of the families discriminated against here is not your or the Tories’ cartoon family. A large majority are on below average equivalised incomes and many would not regard themselves as ‘breadwinner and home-maker’ but ‘working and unemployed’.

  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Dec '13 - 10:52pm

    @Jenny
    I’m happy to note (whether it had to do anything with me or not) that the clumsy wording on the website has now been changed to something much better. I do actually agree with your aims here – I was just a bit taken aback to read what I did the other day.

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