Cameron’s marriage tax “social engineering” under attack

At PMQs, David Cameron defended his marriage tax policy, once described by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke as "social engineering". His arguments were shaky at best.

At Prime Minister’s Questions today, David Cameron defended his marriage tax policy, once described by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke as “social engineering“. Cameron’s argument was all over the place as his focus shifted from the tax code of other countries, comparisons with other forms of Government support, the causes of Government deficit, and Labour’s record of recognising marriage in the tax system. On each area he is on shaky ground.

Watch it:

First, as the Dr Patrick Nolan of the right-wing Reform think tank has written for Conservative Home:

“This claim that the UK largely stands alone among industrialised countries in not recognising marriage is quite simply wrong.

“There are a host of other countries that make no recognition of marriage in their tax systems at all, including New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Greece and Hungary. Since the 1970s the clear direction of travel in tax systems has been to move away from family taxation. In relation to income taxes, for example, in 1970 it was possible to assess income taxes on a family basis in two thirds OECD countries, but in the 21th Century this has (quite rightly) fallen to around a third (and is continuing to fall).”

Second, comparing the £550 million cost of the Tory’s tax policy with the minimal costs of tax breaks for “Christmas parties and parking your bicycle at work” is simply absurd. Third, the Institute for Fiscal Studies published research before the election showing that “encouraging parents to marry [is] unlikely to lead to significant improvements in young children’s outcomes”. As Left Foot Forward documented before the election, the outcome gaps in cognitive development between children born to married and cohabiting parents are relatively small compared with the outcome gaps associated with a range of other factors.  The finding is consistent with a recent paper by Ruth Lister and Fran Bennett for Renewal, which concluded:

“As a number of commentators have pointed out, it is not possible to conclude from the statistics that marriage itself causes the positive outcomes associated with it and that therefore the stability of a society is a function of the support given to the institution of marriage. In particular, social scientists suggest that the stability associated with marriage can be attributed to the kind of people who choose to get married or to cohabit and to the values that they hold.”

Finally, Labour’s decision in 2007 to allow inheritance tax allowances to be transferable between married couples and civil partners remains contentious with many on the left but marriage was already recognised in the inheritance tax system. This is completely different from introducing a new (and expensive) tax break.

Mr Cameron did not explain why his policy discriminates against lone parents and widows, excludes 11.6 million married people where both husband and wife work, and does nothing for the roughly 600,000 married couples of working age who do not earn over the £6,555 tax threshold.

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29 Responses to “Cameron’s marriage tax “social engineering” under attack”

  1. Liz McShane

    RT @wdjstraw: Cameron was all over the place at #PMQs defending his discriminatory marriage tax http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  2. Max

    RT @wdjstraw: Cameron was all over the place at #PMQs defending his discriminatory marriage tax http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  3. Richard Angell

    RT @psbook: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  4. Helen Willis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  5. sallymumbycroft

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  6. Lamlamlamlamlamyaaaa

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  7. Sarah Ditum

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  8. Will Straw

    Cameron was all over the place at #PMQs defending his discriminatory marriage tax http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  9. R Gordon

    RT @helenmew: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  10. Hannah McFaull

    RT @wdjstraw: Cameron was all over the place at #PMQs defending his discriminatory marriage tax http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  11. Shamik Das

    RT @wdjstraw: Cameron was all over the place at #PMQs defending his discriminatory marriage tax http://bit.ly/awgYOB @leftfootfwd

  12. Political Scrapbook

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  13. Tim Horton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  14. Andy Buckley-Taylor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax under attack – why his #PMQs defence was wrong http://bit.ly/awgYOB

  15. Anon E Mouse

    Will – Why do the left hate the idea of giving the voters more of their money back? What is it with you guys where you think it’s right to tax people? Why do the left love BIG government? Roll on the repeal of Labour’s stupid laws I say – I agree with Nick I’m afraid…

    And Harman would have more of a point if she wasn’t in the government that had run up the debts in the first place – I spy groupthink at LFF…

  16. Liz McShane

    Anon – on a very simplistic level, but I think it illustrates the point very well, it was ‘Big Government’ that sent the naval ships to Spain recently to bring back home stranded British tourists. ‘Big Society’ or ‘Small Government’ would have just given them a telephone number to ring and said D.I.Y.

  17. Anon E Mouse

    Liz – Two things. Firstly it doesn’t take “Big Government” to get on the phone and organise an available vessel to collect some stranded passengers in another European country – I could do it and I’m Mr Disorganised. Remember under that last useless bunch we spent £168 thousand thousand thousand in a year – we could have bought a ship for that.

    Secondly, and importantly Cameron (at the end of Will’s YouTube link) mentions to Harman that Labour had rewarded married couples to the tune of £300,000 with their changes in Inheritance Tax – a reward to the wealthy by a Labour government. Now there’s a surprise Liz, Labour rewarding the rich…

    The fact is Cameron and Clegg just look relaxed and new – as I looked at the opposition bench yesterday (I don’t include Harman in this – she was OK) wee Dougie Alexander and Darling looked so miserable and hang dog I almost felt sorry for them!

    But then I remembered the years of waste, of the journeys by limo’s and private jets whilst banging on about the environment. The wars and society they invented where it felt like a police state and any sympathy I felt quickly left me and I got my senses back…

  18. tracy j

    anon is right. this new lot have an opportunity to do well. everything over the last 13 years was so wrong. they just have to undo alot of it and will be near universally praised. the cuts that are coming can be blamed on the last lot.

    i will be interested in how labour try and justify this 13 years. any successes that involve government spending are negated by the fact it was on credit. after that i think it comes down to gay marriage!

  19. Jane Watkinson

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron's marriage tax "social engineering" under attack http://bit.ly/awgYOB – interesting piece

  20. abdullah

    ‘everything over the last 13 years was so wrong.’

    Don’t be ridiculous.

  21. tracy j

    @abdullah

    go on then. name this list of labour successes (and make sure they’re paid for!)

  22. Look Left – The Week in Fast Forward | Left Foot Forward

    […] tax proposals at the first prime minister’s questions of the new parliament, as reported by Left Foot Forward. She also pledged to reform the rules for shadow cabinet elections so half the posts would go to […]

  23. Mr. Sensible

    I fully agree. Cameron talks about controling public spending by tackling social problem, but the evidence is simply not there to suggest that whether a child’s parents are married or cohabiting effects how that child grows up. All I am interested in is that they are good parents. And Cameron emfacizes the bit about civil partnerships, but in truth that bit was just cobbled on to the end.

    It is simply wrong for a government to be promoting 1 type of family over another in the tax system, and particularly when the same government keeps going on about the need for spending cuts.

    I say again. There’s either a need to cut the defecit or there isn’t. And if there is, we cannot afford the coalition’s pet projects.

    Simple as.

  24. Jacquie Martin

    In line with the big bang theories of this coalition – this is one BIG banana skin laying/lying (sic) on the floor.

    I suspect it will give a whole new meaning to the old Banana Splits song:
    One banana
    Two banana
    Three banana
    Four
    There’s the coaltion sprawled across the floor

    Paddy Pantsdown, where are youuuuuu?

    Open door, guys! Stand ups, rather than lie downs … many a joke will be spurned/spawned. Here comes the Sun.

  25. Mr. Sensible

    Ms Harman hit the knale on the head.

  26. The alternative to "Osborne's bombshell" | Left Foot Forward

    […] married couples to “recognise marriage in the tax system” – a policy which will discriminates against single parents, widows, and married couples where both couples are in full-time […]

  27. The alternative to “Osborne’s bombshell” « Dnmufc's Blog

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