No, really, that wedding cost a fortune and I don’t care if the wife and me are at each other’s throats and slapping the kids around each night. What’s important is that we have a wedding certificate!
This seems to be the logic behind giving married couples a tax break. As Iain Duncan Smith said, the tax breaks for married couples were not “about government interfering in family life” but “about government recognising that stable two-parent families are vital for the creation of a strong society.”
I might even agree with him, but his quotes don’t say “married”, thjey say “stable two-parent families” and these are not the same. We can probably all think of married couples who frankly shouldn’t be – should we reward their making each other’s, and their family’s, lives miserable? And what about my friends from university who have been in a stable, loving relationship for almost 25 years and have two wonderful children? They never wanted to marry and they haven’t, so why should the absence of a piece of paper be a tax burden to them?
Oh, and let’s not forget that there isn’t any money in the coffers. So if married people are gaining, everyone else must lose out to balance the budget.
But let’s step back for a moment and consider something which does trouble some of my married work colleagues. If two parents work, perhaps both working reduced hours so reduced wages, then they both get taxed – but they each get tax allowances which mean their first few thousand of earnings are tax free and their individual earnings might mean that they pay no more than 20% tax on any earnings. Compare this to a couple where one parent stays home but the other works a long day; the single earner gets a single tax allowance and the combined earnings could well hit the 40% tax threshold. So, two parents working means far less tax for the same total income.
In the US couples can “file jointly” with the tax allowances etc shared; should we do it here? Nice idea but once again the devil’s in the detail. As we roll this out, some tax income will drop, so we need to ramp up elsewhere. And what is a couple – bugger, we’re back to the “married” argument.
How about a different approach? Should we provide children with a transferable tax allowance which can be used by either parent or guardian? This means that a “couple” becomes “two people with shared legal responsibility for children” regardless of gender or marital status. But if you’re earning sufficient to be paying tax, do you even need the tax breaks? Well Lib Dems took some of the poorest in this country out of tax so perhaps this is just another logical extension, raising the tax threshold so that more at the bottom end up paying no tax at all.
What do I think? Well my marriage is between me and my wife and it’s got nothing to do with you, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A tax break is going to do nothing to change my marriage, and I think a tax break for married people is simply wrong. But that idea about child tax allowances… well have you seen the price of children’s shoes?