Thursday, April 25, 2024
HomeNewsHarry Benson: Our tax system actively discourages marriage

Harry Benson: Our tax system actively discourages marriage


New figures from the 2011 Census, released by the Office for National Statistics continue to underestimate the true extent of family breakdown, although they edge a little closer to reality.

Out of the 6.7 million families with children in England and Wales, 29 percent are now headed by lone parents, up from 25 percent during the previous 2001 Census.

However, the number of lone parent families simply represents a snapshot of parents who are currently on their own. Many parents who have split up go on to remarry or repartner along the way.

What’s interesting in these new figures is that we can see how the number of stepfamilies has also changed during the decade. Combining lone and step parent families amounts to 37 percent of all families, up from 35 percent a decade earlier.

That gives a better snapshot of overall family breakdown. But even this still understates the true scale of the problem because it spans children of all ages, from families with babies to families with teens.

Our recent analysis of data from the household survey Understanding Society shows that 45 percent of teens aged 13 to 15 are not living with both natural parents. Family breakdown rates tend to tail off over time after that so the eventual proportion will only end up slightly higher than this.

Still, I think 45 percent is quite shocking enough. That’s the real scale of the problem.

There’s one other anomaly that shines out from these new figures. Whereas the proportion of married parents who are stepfamilies has remained pretty constant at 9 percent between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of unmarried parents who are stepfamilies has fallen from 38 percent to 20 percent.

So where have all these ‘missing’ unmarried stepfamilies gone? The answer is that they are pretending to be lone parents. And they do this because our perverse tax credit system, introduced in 2003, now pays them up to £7,100 more if they live apart – or pretend to live apart.

Our previous research, using official figures, showed that there are at least 240,000 more people claiming lone parent tax credits than there are lone parents! All of these are couples. So that’s half a million people.

Not only does this disgraceful system incentivise fraud and disincentivise living together, it also actively discourages marriage. Couples can only cheat the tax credit system like this if they’re not married.

Politicians on all sides who think they are doing a good job with their family policies need to answer these three questions:

Are you happy that

(1) 45 percent of today’s teens have experienced family breakdown?

(2) Family breakdown is still rising?

(3) Your perverse tax credit system pays couples thousands to live apart and not marry?

If you appreciated this article, perhaps you might consider making a donation to The Conservative Woman. Unlike most other websites, we receive no independent funding. Our editors are unpaid and work entirely voluntarily as do the majority of our contributors but there are inevitable costs associated with running a website. We depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. You can donate here. Thank you.
If you have not already signed up to a daily email alert of new articles please do so. It is here and free! Thank you.

Harry Benson
Harry Benson
Harry Benson is research director for Marriage Foundation and a PhD student of social policy at University of Bristol.

Sign up for TCW Daily

Each morning we send The ConWom Daily with links to our latest news. This is a free service and we will never share your details.