It’s the policy announcement we’ve been waiting three years for. The wet dream of many a Conservative who wants the population to conform to their 1950s stereotypes of a perfect family life. The pledge of a Prime Minister attempting to bring his party back together under conservative values, and appeal to the worst parts of the older generation that might be running away to UKIP to find a home for their homophobic, xenophobic, bigoted, ‘traditional’ views that they like to package up nicely under the title of religion.
Yes, the Married Couples Tax Allowance is here, offering a mouth-watering £200 saving per year (or a staggering £3.85 a week) to about 4 million couples where neither member pays the higher rate of tax. You’ll be pleased to know that this will also cover 15,000 people in civil partnerships and, when they finally become law, same-sex married couples. This is a policy that, the Prime Minister and the Tories say, will encourage more marriages – which they see as the best form of family – giving a better, and stronger home to children who will, according to Tory research, be better off in life. It’s also a policy that, enshrined by the coalition agreement, the Liberal Democrats do not have to support.
I think, perhaps, this is one of the most insulting policies – to almost everyone – that I’ve ever seen. Married couples are being told that they are valued and the centre of all things good in Britain, but only to the paltry sum of £3.85 a week. The government is insulting those looking to get married by suggesting that they’ll only do so for money. And then, the vast swathes of people who are single, cohabiting, widowed or divorced are being told that they are wrong, that they families aren’t worthy, and that they should pay more tax because of it.
Are we really saying that because two people were lucky enough to fall in love and stay together long enough to consider marriage, that they should be able to pay less tax? Surely they’ve got the benefits anyway – like actually being able to spend time with the person they love, like living cheaper than single people in terms of housing or food and that they got to have a HUGE party with all of their friends (a party that will take 75 years to pay off if that’s what the tax allowance is for). Are we really saying that just because you didn’t spend all your money on that big party, but you still have a mortgage, a long term partner and a family, you don’t deserve even the pitiful tax allowance the Tories are offering? You’ll be able to get the tax breaks even if you’re onto your third marriage, but you won’t if you’re recently widowed, escaped from a destructive marriage or decided you can’t really afford the party.
I campaigned for marriage to be extended to same-sex couples because I believe we should all have the right to formalise our relationships equally. But at no point do I think we should say one type of family or relationship is better than others. There’s very little evidence to suggest marriage really benefits society, or that children do better coming from married homes as opposed to those with cohabiting parents. Are we seriously trying to tell single people that society doesn’t value them, or adding to the shame and disappointment of divorce by telling people that they deserve to lose their tax benefits. Is it right for the state to tell us how we should live our personal lives?
Before we start offering (albeit pitiful) tax incentives to a few married couples, there’s a number of things we could do to help all people, all couples, and all families – not just those the Tories think are the best. Like, lowering the costs of childcare. Controlling spiralling rent and house prices. Increasing the Minimum Wage so that people can actually live on it. Cutting zero-hours contracts. Standing up to energy companies.
Marriage is great, and I really want to have one someday. I don’t want to be married because I might get to pay less tax; I want to get married so I can show my love for my future husband in the same way that my parents have shown their love for one another. Not all of my friends think the same. Their future relationships won’t be any less worthy or less deserving than mine.