Saturday, September 28, 2013

10 Reasons A Marriage Tax Break is a Dreadful Idea

1. People have and always did marry for silly reasons. The proposed marriage tax break provides another very silly reason. People who marry for silly reasons don't tend to stay happy or married for long.

2. There's a mixed message about childcare here. Impoverished lone parents are under greater pressure than ever to find full-time work as soon as their children are on solid food. The principle beneficiaries for the planned tax break will be married couples where one partner stays at home or works part time. If you're into social engineering (and there is no other term), then you at least need to be consistent.

3. It's quite complicated. It's to do with transferring part of your unused tax allowance to your spouse. I'm not sure I even know what that means or how it will work, and I'm guessing there'll be eligible people who never see a penny.

4. As with all political moralising about the merits of marriage, rhetoric around the tax break fails to understand why people who aren't married aren't married. There are perhaps four categories of people who aren't married:

(a) Single people.  Single people may or may not like to be married, they may or may not have been married in the past, they may believe that marriage is the bedrock of civilisation, but marriage is not a reasonable lifestyle option open to a single person. Because there's only one of them.
(b) Committed couples who can't or don't want to get married just now or perhaps ever. Reasons may include a conscientious objection to marriage (see point 10 below), deeply personal reasons, legal or financial obstacles, an uncomplicated disinterest in the subject and, very often, plans to marry in the future. Unmarried couples are not necessarily unmarrying; most married couples were once cohabitees.
(c) Groups of more than two people who are in love and can't have a legal marriage that includes all parties.
(d) (Much more commonly) Couples who aren't entirely committed to each other. 
The elevation of coupledom as the place we all want to be, the first class arrival lounge of adulthood, means that a fair few people are in relationships which aren't really working too well. People in these relationships may be restless, discontented or they may be desperately unhappy but afraid to leave. Such couples should, under no circumstances, be encouraged to marry. The trouble is that some people do think fairy dust is sprinkled over couples at marriage - as with having a child (which is worse), some people believe that a wedding is just what a struggling couple needs to sort themselves out.

The rhetoric around this tax break encourages unhappy couples to marry. The message is that married relationships are better, which can easily sound like your relationships would be better if you were married. It won't be.  It will be roughly like it is now, only harder to get out of. 

5. £3.85 a week is not a great deal of money to most working people. The scheme is expected to cost the state £550 million and not make a great deal of different to the lives or incomes of anyone. 

6. In fact, the administrative cost of marriage is just over £100.  If you want to wear fancy clothes, invite your family and have a nice meal, it's going to cost a few hundred more.  At £200 a year (the maximum tax break), a marriage will take between six months and several years to pay for itself. 

7. Cameron says, "Love is love, commitment is commitment." but marriage is a not a necessary or sufficient condition for love or commitment. For example, former MSP Bill Walker, on his forth marriage having violently abused his first three wives, would still be theoretically eligible for this tax break (if he was working and not in prison). Meanwhile, the most conservative-friendly hard-working jam-making war widow one can imagine would not. 

8. It is very much cheaper to be part of a couple than it is to be single. This is especially the case for couples or single people with children. It is therefore ridiculous to give any kind of subsidy to a group of people who - presuming married people generally live, sleep, eat and socialise together - are already blessed with lower living expenses that many other people.  

9. This policy really feels like it is about making certain people, those lucky enough to have found someone they love, those privileged enough to have been able to afford marriage, those where one person earns enough for another not to have to work full time, to feel superior and smug about a lifestyle that landed in their lap.

10. One of the chief reasons people object to marriage is the idea that it is an institution that belongs to conservative moralisers and religious zealots. The sort of people who say that marriage makes for superior relationships. The sort of people who grit their teeth through decades of domestic conflict, sexual frustration and deception just so they can call their marriages successful.

It strikes me that policies like this are exactly what gives marriage an image problem.


Louna said...

We have this in Germany. It sucks. I don't know whether your planned system is exactly the same as ours, but it encourages marriages where one person stays at home and takes care of the house and kids while the other works full time. Guess who usually ends up staying at home?

The Goldfish said...

The tax break isn't in place here, but I think what you describe is the crux of the matter - Glosswitch wrote more about the sexism of the plans.