Tuesday, 1 December 2009

in which i rant about marriage

I like being married, really. Which maybe has something to do with my parents still being happily together after 40something years; something to do with me being boringly conventional; maybe even something to do with my husband. What I don't think it's about is money.
David Cameron has given a mildly panicky interview in today's Daily Mail insisting he still backs tax breaks for married couples, including those who don't have children.
Let's assume for now that he can fund a multi-billion pound perk out of thin air, in a recession, in ways so far mysteriously unclear.
Let's also assume that marriage specifically - not rock-solid, permanent relationships where both parents are around; not heroically hardworking single parents; but something unique to a ring and a frock and a biiig argument about the guestlist - is nirvana for childrearing. Let's assume everyone should get, and stay, married.
How do we make them do it? Not by looking at why couples get divorced, and why that so often follows the arrival of children (and onset of the frantic juggling years).
Not by unpicking cultural expectations of marriage, in a generation many of whose own parents divorced acrimoniously.
Not by removing welfare disincentives (single mothers risk losing benefits if a partner moves in). Not even by examining factors like high UK property prices, which - combined with a faintly mad belief (or was that just me?) that you must buy a house together before you get hitched - tends to delay marriage.
Nope. We're going to do it like a cheap supermarket deal. Buy a wife, get money off! Once you've paid the (average £10k) cost of a wedding, obviously.
We keep being told that childcare tax credit for higher rate taxpayers is an unaffordable luxury in a recession: it's likely to be withdrawn for those on over £50,000. Tax breaks for moral virtue, however, are just dandy: no word on them being restricted to low earners.
So there we have it: decent childcare is less important to children's welfare if their parents work than the fact you cut a cake and grimaced through the speeches together.
And if you're childless newlyweds, you're more deserving of taxpayers' cash than if you're a struggling cohabiting couple working three lowpaid jobs between you to support your kids. If that doesn't send a clear message about family life, what does, eh?
One thing to consider: according to reports last month, lesbians make the best parents of all. Don't hold your breath for gay-only tax breaks.


  1. But what about the fact that being married means you get less than if you are, which is wrong isnt it?

    How do you stop the divorce incentivisation of the current system?

  2. And tax breaks for higher earners with kids.

    What if stopping that stops people from working. Surely that then becomes counter intutive? And yes, that may actually happen in my case.

    The vouchers are the diffeernce between two people working or one.

  3. *applause*

    Well said. Hang on to that soapbox. Or maybe use it to hit Cameron over the head until he gets a clue.

  4. Or just maybe that's the story for the Daily Mail... Bet he doesn't go repeating that one to the Guardian.

    Well said though. Am with agirl in the cheering and applause (and the hitting Cameron on the head)

  5. Can't support violence, even to Tories. But I do applaud what you're saying Gaby. There must be a better way to help people just starting out as parents, now that we don't all have big extended families to help (although mine do, and I live near them, and I do realise how lucky I am to have them there when most of my friends are miles apart from theirs). It's a real crunch point for relationships, and as a society we do need to do what we can to help people get through it better. That's why it's such a con to say we have a "broken society" but tell the public that we need less "state" provision, more voluntary provision etc. I think it's basically the wrong argument...

  6. But why is a household with two earners (without kids needing childcare) at 30K a year paying £3500 less tax a year that a household with one earner at 60K? Isn't there something wrong with that? It's families like mine that seem to get penalized the most by the current policies and when Labour refers to Cameron's idea as benefiting ladies of leisure it sends the message that they don't see the job I do as a SAHM at all valuable. I'm not sure if this Cameron has the right solution, but I don't think things are fair the way they are right now.

    Plus most countries in Europe & North America etc. offer this transferable tax allowance already and see it as an allowance for the basic cost of living per person, not a reward for marriage. After all, my husband does pay for food and clothes for all of us, not just himself. And could there not be a workaround for common-law relationships where by legally declaring themselves as cohabiting, they would become eligible?

  7. Only one in twelve married couples par within five years of the child’s birth for unmarried couples that number is ONE IN TWO. Got that ?
    Fucking hellski woman ,we have had New Labour sticking its grubby fingers into every conceivable area of social engineering for ten years . This is a minor but symbolic reversal of Brown’s anti Marriage tax changes . No -one is disadvantaged, and you are getting your knickers in twist .What’s the matter do you like children suffering ?
    Why would a single mother work hard ? A single mother working 16 hours a week , after tax gains a total income of £487 a week while a two parent family on the minimum wage has to work 116 hours to the same . (Frank Field ) . Do you think thats not social engineering ?
    The Institute of fiscal studies shows that if a couple are earning £5000 and £15000 a year respectively they will lose £5400 in benefits if they continue to share a home A Couple on £18000 who live in the same house pay a penalty of £8588 per year or 40% of their pre-tax income .A couple on £50,000 per year would be £7000 worse off . . No wonder 200,000 cohabiting couples are pretending to live apart. Do you think that is not social engineering ?
    ONS showed that children of single parent families are about twice as likely to have mental health problems .Children from Lone Parent Families are 2,.4 times as likely to smoke ,1.6 times as likely to drink alcohol .In the US 63% of teenage suicides , 90 % of homeless and 85% of juvenile prisoners are form Fatherless homes ( 70 % of UK young offenders coke from fatherless homes and again in the UK about the same proportion of young drug abusers .Whats your evidnece , you knmow a blameless divorcee you met at Uni ?
    Ok so lets remind ourselves …Only one in twelve married couples par within five years of the child’s birth for unmarried couples that number is ONE IN TWO. Just retain that information ….
    Marriage has slumped to its lowest level for 150 year and married couples as proportion in the adult population being 53.3%. They were about 2/3 in the 70s.Married women are out numbered by single and divorced women for the fist time . One in three children will experience divorce or separation before the age of sixteen and UNICEF.. yes even that left wing collection of whiners, say that Britain’s position as having the least happy children in the developed world is due to the high level of family breakdown.
    Do not get me started ion the subject of wasted money I warn you . JUST DON`T ! That Lesbian Survey was just a puff piece , what was the sample , what was the comparison ? Results reflect anything “Intention” commitment , literacy income and everything else that is not the point .
    Can you not forget your “Progressive “ baggage .Assorted exceptions are not the point . The point is supporting structures that frame life for people without a safety net…. But perhaps you think its all going swimmingly well your way ? It is notand if your life is perfect and self sustaining . Ta for the info; so what ?

  8. Blimey, that put the cat among the pigeons... Halfthestory, doubtless there will be some two earner couples where one will stop work if tax break is withdrawn - I don't favour withdrawing them!
    Trish, i know where you're coming from but would just say - Cameron's not offering tax reforms to help SAHMs, regardless of relationship: it'd be a different argument if he was. He's offering tax reforms to help marriage, a side-effect of which might be some married SAHMs benefiting. He also more or less rejected the transferable tax allowance idea (the bit that's useful to SAHMs) when he says the report that suggested it isn't Tory policy .
    And newmania. Hmm. I know the stats, thanks. But:
    1. The IFS examples you quote reflect the cost of living together (whether married OR cohabiting) vs living apart. Undesirable disincentives? Sure. But not specific to married couples, so why target policy only on married couples?
    Particularly given 2. Does marriage itself make people stay together? Or are people who choose to get married just more committed in the first place /more likely to have strong religious views than those who don't, and therefore less likely to divorce? Because if so, just coercing uncommitted partners into a ceremony doesn't make them stay. You need to promote commitment and longevity in relationships.
    and 3. Divorce rates started rising while there was still recognition in the tax system for marriage: what evidence is there that an extra £20 a week will change that? There's big deadweight costs - you're subsidising couples twothirds of whom would've stayed together anyway.
    Also odd that an anti-big state party chooses a big old clunking fist like tax to affect behaviour. So much for the politics of nudge.

  9. If you know the facts then why do you write as if you do not ? One has to address the outcomes for children or be justly accused of deceit .You are complaining about a largely symbolic redress of New Labour’s assault on marriage , a nudge if you will .
    You do not like it boo hoo , I have liked almost nothing New Labour and its camp followers have inflicted this last hellish decade in which Government spending has increases by about the size of all income tax . Get a sense of scale
    This clearly socially beneficial tweak addresses an environment New Labour have been tipping at 90 degrees to suit their unwanted progressive agenda . It’s wee a bit late for complaining about engineering sweety .
    You want to to promote “stable relationships ” do you ? What on earth are you thinking of, state agony aunts compulsory courses in “Relationships ? I dread to think, ands its all too plausible. Its no business of the state’s to stick its snout into relationships only to promote public expression of them.
    The relationship between ritual expressions of cultural preference is complicated human and not easy to map .Things that matter to Conservative often are ,... . Were we not already in a factory farm tax environment marriage would need no support but we are .Only a socialist would assume that the a direct ‘Policy to Result relationship should be found . We are all aware there are other strains and what do you suggest , we continue adding to them.( Genius at work )

    Anyway you tell me , does you marriage mean nothing to you then ? Was it just a boring folderol , a childish pretence ? In your mind is your husband a boyfriend you are yet to get sick of ? Did you detect nothing of the power of by ritual to speak to now and the future and to eternity , to enact the original Platonic meaning of “The other Half , the soul`s mate .Why not read less “Lines to take” and more poetry ...but then why poetry at all when it could be logically expressed in boring bullet point New Labour Statistics .

    ....Our eye-beames twisted, and did thred Our eyes, upon one double string; So to'entergraft our hands, as yet Was all the meanes to make us one, And pictures in our eyes to get Was all our propagation. As 'twixt two equall Armies, Fate Suspends uncertaine victorie,
    Our soules, (which to advance their stateWere gone out,) hung 'twixt her, and mee.
    And whil'st our soules negotiate there,
    Wee like sepulchrall statues lay;
    All day, the same our postures were,
    And wee said nothing, all the day.
    If any, so by love refin'd,........

  10. newmania - er, i write as i do because i draw different conclusions from the statistics. obviously.
    why on earth do you think only socialists want to see a result from policy? what is the point in making policy if you neither know nor care what it achieves?
    btw, you do yourself no favours by calling strange women "sweety". if you're confident of your argument, why descend to personal crap?

  11. Just how strange are you Gaby ?

    what is the point in making policy if you neither know nor care what it achieves?

    To increase your power prestige and sense of worth as well as you Empire of lackeys of course , or are you suggesting Politicians inhabit a higher moral plane than the rest of us , hadn’t noticed that ?
    That was what I meant in any case .You dragged in the oft quoted fact that divorce was rising prior to New Labour removing any residual support for it . This is probably hugely significant to someone who thinks , Policy is a magic spell cast on formless jelly . To other people the idea that the only thing happening is “Policy” is slightly comical and as for knowing what it will achieve ... ha ! I had hoped that the endless failures were an accident. Seriously you think they knew ?

    BTW Sorry about the “Sweety”, I toyed with slipping in a couple of darlings and a ducky as well . ...god knows why anyone would find that funny *serious face *

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  13. Hello, UTBS.

    You still are somebody, nay ?

    My opinion differs to yours. The point of the Tory's tax 'perk' is not to cost money, but to save it. In stabilising parenthood, by whatever means, the social and economic costs to this country are reduced. So the argument goes anyway. My instincts tell me that this is right.

    People who embark on parenthood whilst unmarried are more likely to split up - according to statistics.

    An oft used phrase used in criminal courts in mitigation by defence lawyers," He came from a broken home, Your Honour."

    In restoring faith in long-life partnership and the sanctity of marriage - and by giving it State endorsement - surely this would be a great step keeping fathers in their place. At home doing their bit to raise the kids. There isn't really an effective 'alternative' lifestyle, as you seem to have found out yourself.

  14. I hear your point UTBS about how if it applied to all relationships it would be different, and I think that's the way to go. But because it doesn't go far enough to support all families with only one wage earner does that mean it is completely rubbish?

    I would suspect that it should be possible to get civil partnerships included for this benefit pretty easily (discrimination case? and costing relatively little?). And I am not actually against it benefiting those who don't have children. True ladies of leisure have to eat too - as do the many women/men who do a lot of unpaid volunteer or caring work.

    True choice and fairness would be transferable tax allowances with the family and tax relief on the entire cost of childcare (as a fixed cost of working). Labour's not going to give us either...

  15. el-kevo, i agree with you that if a way could be found to stabilise more families there'd potentially be huge savings in social costs - where we differ is that im not sure tax reform is the way to stabilise them. but appreciate you arguing it out in a civilised manner.
    Trish, the tories have certainly suggested civil partnerships could be included (as you point out it might risk legal challenge if they didn't). Cameron did hint at supporting tax relief on cost of childcare in the very early days but hasnt been heard of since (I think the cost put them off..)

  16. Tax reform isn't the way to stabilise families - it's merely ONE of them. At the very least it is an acknowledgement at a policy-making level that marriage has great merits for stable parenting and that it is beneficial to society.

    I'd go further actually. The problem of absent fathers is largely with the Jack-the-lads who tend to up-and-oft at the slightest temptation or when things get a bit tough (as things do when there are children.) The mother is generally the parent that stays behind so let's be in no doubt that female 'emancipation' has, in fact, been a great boon to irresponsible men. This behaviour needs to be stigmatised - instead these types so often wear the fact that they avoid paternal responsibility with pride or continually gripe about the 200 quid a month the CSA 'rips off' them.

    Government endorsement of marriage through economic policy is a great start in this process of stigmatisation.

    It's not just the correlation between youth crime and absent fathers - it's tragic fact that so much child abuse is committed by new men in the mother's life.

  17. Thanks for the reply.

    The issue is if you create a benefit, and it is really a benefit not a tax break to most people, to withdraw it is (a) unfair and (b) stupid.

    Its the parents poll tax.

    I see they have backed down in their new labour style.

    Dippy Dawn's handiwrok at the tiller again.

    In terms of the vouchers, did you know that (a) the company can pay you less in pension and other areas as you have alower salary and (b) if you go off on mat leave again you can keep getting the £243 in vouchers even on statutory leave?

    But good blog and keep it up :-) as I prefer to argue with people whose opinions I value even if I dont agree with them.

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