Kathy Gyngell: How Hammond could put marriage back in fashion

No man is an island. The UK income tax system chooses to treat its citizens as though each were one; as though each were an autonomous unit without responsibility for, or need of, anyone else but the State; as though families no longer mattered.

Almost uniquely amongst OECD countries, the UK refuses to recognise family responsibilities in the tax system. The only ‘recognition’ of ‘family’ has been provided by inflated benefits (in the form of a multi-billion-pound annual tax credits bill), which in turn sustain ever more family set-ups dependent on the State while failing to provide the stability and security children need.

Were Philip Hammond to produce a Budget of vision, it is this, the reform of family taxation, that should be at its core. Were he genuinely keen to take on socialism, this is where he should start.

Given the fashion for apologies these days, he could well start with one. On behalf of successive Conservative governments since 1985, when independent taxation was introduced without any counter-measure to acknowledge the majority of single-earner couple families at the time, he could apologise for the family breakdown they are responsible for. He could apologise to the children without fathers for the blight of state welfare dependency they grew up in and the institutionalised child care inflicted on them which Conservative, as much as Labour, governments presided over. I am half-serious. If you don’t understand why, just read this heartfelt account of a father’s terrible doubts about putting his baby into long daycare.

Maybe Theresa May, Philip Hammond, David Cameron and George Osborne should all, in turn, apologise for making it so hard for people to be married, to make the right choices for the sake of their children.

I am not holding my breath. Politicians on the Right are as blind as those on the Left to the relationship between fiscal individualism, social breakdown and neglect of children. At best they see benefit reform – ‘making work pay’ – as the social cure-all when it is only one half of the story. Marriage is the other, and more critical, half. The few who dare mention this heresy do so with scared and hesitant voices when they need to raise them in anger.

Care’s devastating new family taxation report, The Taxation of Families: International Comparisons 2016, should stiffen their sinews to the task if nothing else does. Reading this meticulously researched comparison left me with a rising fury at the sheer immorality of the UK’s income tax system. No, not that the rich are hit too much or too little. But at the extent to which single living is incentivised and married family life and motherhood is penalised. Really, the Treasury might as well declare war on marriage. Be stupid enough to be responsible, to get a job, get married and plan your family, in that order, and you can expect to be punished, especially if you are poor already. Have the temerity to believe that your children need one stay-at-home parent and you can expect to be punished till it hurts, in fact till you give in and do what the State tells you, which is to go to work and offload your kids.

Whatever the squeals of protest from aggressive childcare campaigners, in the mix of what George Osborne once called ‘lifestyle’ choices, the choice the tax system tilts violently against is not the ‘right’ to childcare, but the right of one-earner married couple parenthood.

For the sin of wanting this – even if only for a while – such families are crippled by the highest effective marginal tax rate in the developed world. For this ‘luxury’ they pay in tax 70 per cent more than a comparable French family, more than twice as much as a comparable US family and 15 times as much as a comparable German family.

‘Whereas across the OECD on average the tax burden placed on such a family tends to be closer to half that on a single person on the same wage, the UK burden is more than 75 per cent of that placed on a single person on the same wage,’ the Care report states.



If Mrs May’s former aide Nick Timothy is still advising on her on those ‘just about managing families’, then he might put careful perusal of Care’s report at the top of his agenda, and ask himself what possible justification there is for a tax burden on one-earner married families that is 20 per cent greater than the OECD average. Forget austerity, is it any wonder that married families in all but the highest income brackets are struggling? Is it any wonder that married family life no longer beckons?

As for any idea that marriage is becoming fashionable again, forget it. It has taken less than 40 years for the male marriage rate to plummet – from 50 males per thousand per year then to a present-day 20 per thousand. What this means is that half of men no longer get married, and three million children living in lone-parent, mainly mother-led, families are doomed to fatherlessness in effect.

The family instability consequences of our marriage-lite society and the poor outcomes for children are well documented, as is the sociological evidence that marriage (or the lack of it) is the key predictor of poverty. If further confirmation were needed, Harry Benson’s study of 11,000 families published this week provides it. Having parents who split up is the strongest single negative influence on girls’ mental health. Mrs May, please also note, given the adolescent mental health repercussions, that cohabiting couples split at five times the rate of married couples.

There is nothing moral or pragmatic about the Conservatives continuing their policy of extreme fiscal individualism. It is immoral.

The Conservatives need to wake up. Polarising society on marriage lines is an own goal. It delivers an inequality and injustice that Mr Corbyn’s socialism can never mitigate but will forever thrive on.

Kathy Gyngell

  • ancientpopeye

    Let’s not forget the feminists input. If a man who has built a successful business gets married to a scheming woman, she then concocts some story after the necessary time including childbirth and divorces, she takes half his business and future income, roughly speaking.
    That has to mean some disincentive to marriage, or am I a cynic?
    I hasten to add that I have been happily married for 66 years.

    • paul parmenter

      Glad to hear your marriage has lasted so long. Congratulations. My wife and I have clocked up a mere 40 years. But of course, marriage 66 years ago, even 40 years ago, was a very different animal from what it has become today. If I had a son, I would advise him never to get married in the current climate; one of the main reasons being what you have outlined. If you want to resurrect marriage, it is not enough to incentivise it. You also have to remove the heavy disincentives that have steadily accumulated around it and dragged it down.

      • Scorpion DeRooftrouser

        The consequences of not doing something to reincentivise not only marriage but single earner families are going to be disastrous, both socially and financially (because badly adjusted people cost lots of money one way and another).

        I’m a child of the 60’s and not a great one for moral pronouncements – do what you like as long as it doesn’t frighten the horses – but the situation changes totally when children are involved.

    • lizmilton

      Wonderful. Congratulations on your choice of your first husband 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • ancientpopeye

        I have a veto capability on no 2.

  • Sean Toddington

    The UK does incentivise marriage considerably through the tax system, just not income tax. There are considerable tax advantages on tax on savings and assets, pensions, and most of all on inheritance. And it works – lots of people do get married to preserve pension entitlement and reduce death duties.

    I think comparisons of taxation across countries are more or less a waste of time. By choosing income points you can more or less torture the figures to make them confess to anything you want. More than that I think they can actually support a completely contrary argument to Ms Gyngell’s. Are marriage rates any higher than the UK in Germany, France or the US? I don’t think so. In fact aren’t marriage rates very low in France?

    I suppose if you did give a hefty tax break for married couples it would influence behaviours, but it would have to be really significant. I’d be interested to know how much she thinks might do it. The overarching reason Hammond won’t do that though is because he hasn’t got any money.

  • Bik Byro

    For pity’s sake give up on the ludicrous idea that cohabiting couples are going to start rushing to get married because they can save a couple of quid each month on their tax bill.

    • Reborn

      I know two cohabiting couples who have been together for 20+ years & brought up
      delightful children.
      Marriages today are too often just expensive imitations of show biz vulgarity.

      • forgotten_man

        So do I, I even know a single parent who did the same.
        The latter was savvy enough to know that her kids needed to know and deal with the ‘other half of the population’ as she would say in her breathless irish tones.

        But

        As embedded in the text was the point that the failure rate was five times that of actually married couples.

        A single swallow does not a summer make , as the saying goes.

        • Nockian

          Yes, but that is to claim that all cohabiting couples would prefer to marry had the tax situation been more beneficial and, having become married, that they would not have become divorced at precisely the same rate as they split as cohabiting couples.

          It’s is essentially the fallacy of the neglected aspect, or gross generalisation.

          • forgotten_man

            I think you are over complicating it.
            Firstly I have been familiar with people consciously making that decision to stay unmarried for decades with this being a significant factor, so it is a ‘thing’ , much like people deciding to make a career in living on benefits because of the finances too.
            The two are not necessarily connected , but often are..

            Simply, the current situation is just ‘one more reason not to’ ..and, in a dint of rational tax planning, don’t.

            This is not hard….

          • Nockian

            One word. Proof.

            I certainly accept that behaviours do alter as a result of state intervention. Less tax/subsidies encourage more of that behaviour and more tax/penalties encourage less.

            However, there is not one, but multiple value decisions going on here. A husband/wife/children aren’t homogenised commodities. Hence, their place on the value hierachy does not necessarily mean that money is the highest value driver.

            It’s exactly like F.E. A number of people already went to university without student loan incentives. Some of those students will drop out, or choose their courses unwisely. The incentive means more people now attend university-but arent fewer dropping out, or making bad course choices proportionately, or even increasing ?

            There is no such thing as ‘rational tax planning’ anymore than there is rational theft, or murder. The Government gives some to Bill then takes more from Joe. What you are talking about is a belief system that you hold as rational-that families should be promoted and hence it is rational to you to make this more advantageous.

            I’m trying to show the bigger picture. How that kind of thinking is no different to the left who say more tax should be taken from the wealthy to help the poor. Yet, what is the result of these redistributive policies-failure. They never achieve the intended results because they are based on an immoral belief-that theft can be justified.

          • forgotten_man

            I would certainly agree that there are multiple value decisions going on from first hand experience.
            In my other post , I did say that ‘doing the right thing’ makes you a cash cow for all the other ‘options’ .
            As for FE, or more starkly HE, pre blair the take up rate was about the same as Switzerland and there was a sort of unwritten rule that only those academically bright enough applied.

            Now we have a lot of people educated beyond their intelligence and ability as shown by the rather stupid reactions we get in student protests , who haven’t yet twigged that it was labour that brought in loans instead of grants.
            The big mistake most people make is thinking ‘their’ government is there to lokout for ‘them’ when , in fact, it is looks out for itself while not p g of enough people to start a regime change..

      • Kathy Gyngell

        One case does not make good law. Marriage was and should be about children.
        But we are now a very selfish individualistic society and children pay the price. Brought up (or not brought) up by the State, they are not going to be kind to their parents, if they even know who they are, even less so their parents generation. Why should they? If that is the society you want, fine. I .don’t

        • Bik Byro

          Neither do I. But it is to do with attitudes to life, not saving a bit of income tax.

          • Kathy Gyngell

            I don’t think so – this is not about incentivising as such it is about stopping disincentivising it

            The individualistic nature of our taxes system is extreme. It simply does not recognise family responsibility. The benefits (tax credits system) does but massively advantages unmarried couples but some £7000 a year.

            To make the tax system work for you if you want to marry, both of you have to work whether you have babies and children or not. Marriage itself financial advantage. Both working stops it being a disadvantage – and you can benefit for child care credits and subsidies. If you want to be married and believe a parent is better than a day care centre then tough

          • Kathy Gyngell

            Of course you are right about attitudes to life – that is what we do here which is to fight the culture wars against which the married family is just about the last bastion

          • Reborn

            I share your sentiments.
            It’s just that de facto marriage, all other things being equal, is often as
            desirable as legal marriage.
            The latter, today, is a very expensive option, especially when undertaken by
            those people who want showy weddings & honeymoons, also groom & chums off to Amsterdam or Prague.
            From personal experience, I believe that the more expensive the wedding
            the shallower the marriage.

          • Kathy Gyngell

            Marriage can be a ghastly Hello event but I don’t see that as either here or there. It is the intelligent choice to make for your children – and the intelligent well off still make it. Sadly as an option it is increasingly out of reach even for the middle classes. It has become, though I hate the phrase, a major social justice issue and one of the biggest dividers in society

          • Reborn

            Why increasingly out of reach for the middle classes ?
            I don’t follow that, unless you refer to my belief that modern weddings are
            just too expensive.
            In which case, middle class types, like me & my wife of
            50 years can do it our own way.
            The money saved could make a useful contribution to future home purchase.

          • Woman at home

            You seem to be missing Kathy’s point. It is not the cost of the wedding which puts off the middle classes, it is the increased financial cost through the tax and benefit system.
            We are not just talking a few quid here or there. If a mother wants to raise her own children, being married is a serious disadvantage.

          • Phil R

            That is the nub of it and why it is everyone’s benefit financially to fix this unethical tax system

        • Reborn

          I don’t get your point.
          The cases I cited were de facto heterosexual marriages, just not,
          for whatever reasons, legal marriages.
          It’s the quality of the relationship that counts, and legal marriage does not
          guarantee that.
          Today, many weddings are demonstrations of flash vulgarity, from the
          stinking rich to those doing it on credit cards.
          I’ve been married for 50 years.
          Registry office wedding.

      • Ian Walker

        The whole article is poor reasoning. From the provable “being brought up in a stable family environment is good for children” we go through “marriage is the only form of stability” (it might be an indicator of that, but equally there are terrible family environments being artificially held together through marriage) into the preposterous “we should financially incentivise marriage in order to improve family stability and therefore children’s outcomes” – very, very few relationships break down solely over money.

        By the logic of this article, we should welcome forced marriage – in fact at 16, every girl and every boy should be paired up at random and told to get married, have exactly 2.4 children and stay together until they are grown up. This will optimise the futures of the following generation.

        I’m a big fan of marriage, and I’m looking forward to my silver wedding next year, but I also remember the relief of the women who were able to escape the misery of loveless unions when financial independence became a reality.

        • Woman at home

          Nobody is suggesting forced marriage.
          It is odd that we are the only country in the western world that doesn’t recognise the family for taxation purposes. Are all the other countries misguided?

        • Mojo

          I think what everyone maybe missing is the fact that when marrying we are also marrying into someone else’s family. Many years ago when young men had to request the hand of their bride from her father it was because the intended couple had courted under the solemn eye of the families. During the sixties this was thrown out of the window in the free love frenzy.

          However, the importance of families having the same values, aspirations and social standing is one of those intangibles we have lost. When respective families like each other, there is far more chance that marriages will last as they get mutual support.

          It is well documented that children from divorced parents are emotionally scarred for life. They may be able to deal with the divorce but the fact they often lose one complete side of their world makes a huge impact, specially if the two families are also at loggerheads.

          However, those children who lose a parent through death are often stronger and more successful in coping with stress throughout their lives because both sides of the family rally round and emotionally support each other giving the children a security.

    • Kathy Gyngell

      Look at the Care Report – i a not talking about a couple of quid. UK is an outlier on it fiscal individualism

      • Sean Toddington

        So if tax incentives for marriage work do those countries have a markedly higher marriage rate than the UK? For example France has lower tax because you can share your income with a spouse shielding income from higher rates. An yet the marriage rate is France is much lower than her.

      • Bik Byro

        If you are marrying someone because your motivation is to save money on your tax bill, I would strongly suggest you are getting married for the wrong reason.

        • Woman at home

          You have got the argument back to front.

          People are choosing not to marry because it would cost them more on their tax bill.

          • Bik Byro

            No I haven’t. Read the article. It is proposing to encourage marriage by lowering the tax bill on married couples.
            Do try harder.

          • Woman at home

            I have read the article. I also understand the premise behind it. Clearly you don’t.

          • Bik Byro

            Thankfully you’re a woman at home rather out in the streets where you’d be more of an irritation to the educated world.

          • Woman at home

            I’m happy to irritate arrogant and ill-mannered fools wherever I find them :-).

          • Bik Byro

            Well, if coming on here stops you going out and shouting at cars, then that’s something I suppose

          • Woman at home

            Do you find that shouting at cars works? It never occurred to me to try it. I find applying logic is more successful and satisfying. You should have a go. It might cheer you up a bit :-).

          • Kathy Gyngell

            It is about relativity and justice – proportional tax burdens. The single married earner providing for a family bears a disproportionate burden though he or she have non earning dependents. Aspiring to increase their income becomes pointless when they face the highest effective marginal tax rate in the world – just made worse by the Chancellor latest increase in the personal allowance. The average learning single family only gets to keep 27 pence in every additional pound earned.

          • Kathy Gyngell

            Thank you! Exactly!

  • geordieboy

    These days marriage is very expensive but after a couple of years divorce is even more expensive.

  • martianonlooker

    “How Hammond could put marriage back in fashion”.
    Good Lord! Don’t over-burden him, they cannot even deal with the simple task of Brexit by telling Juncker his drink’s cabinet will stay empty.

  • Reborn

    The government is very supportive of one type of marriage.
    Polygamous mohammedan marriages, where the taxpayer funds up to 4 wives as
    “dependants”.
    It’s just Judeo Christian/Western values that our political classes cannot be seen to defend.
    They are aware of the symbiotic relationship between Labour and islam.

    • lizmilton

      And, If you read “2030: your children’s future in Islamic Britain “ (Amazon), you will see a Muslim man can claim housing benefit for each wife living abroad for up to 52 weeks, as long as the arrangement is temporary…etc etcetc

      • Reborn

        I wasn’t aware of that.
        Our political classes are either insane or evil.Rather like paying UK levels
        of benefit to families living in Rumania etc if one parent works in the UK.

  • forgotten_man

    I can agree that the decision to ‘do the right thing’ has to be made in the full knowledge that it is the least advantageous route to take and you will be the rest od society’s cash cow, the ‘source’ in the ‘resource’ all the other routes demand.

  • Nockian

    Tax is immoral full stop. There is no ‘fair’ tax system. Taxing families is no worse than taxing individuals.

    Conservatives believe in Christian family values, or used to, so I suppose it’s only right that a Conservative should question a party that pays homage to these ideals, whilst clearly doing the opposite. However, this is all just socialism with a Christian topping. Socialism is what it is, and one votes for it by claiming there is some ideal share of re-distribution.

  • auralay

    Excellent article, as far as it goes. You have ignored the other half of the problem which is that those on benefits are heavily penalised for living together as a couple. I know of several families with children where the father wants to live with the family but is afraid that the benefit fraud squad will find out and they will be fined and lose single person benefit. The system is broken on both sides of the divide.

    • Kathy Gyngell

      Indeed – see Harry Benson’s comment

  • Spot on Kathy.
    The government’s most effective family policy is the perverse one that pays couples with one child up to £7k more in tax credits to live apart, or pretend to do so. At last count there were 300,000 more people claiming lone parent tax credits than there are lone parents.
    This “couple penalty” grows to £10k with a second child and will get even worse with Universal Credit: more money to claim based on household income means more to lose.
    Unless tax credits are scrapped – or time limited as in the US – the only way to resolve this is with an offset. So reform and focus the current derisory £250 married allowance with a child benefit worth £’000s to first time married mums with children under three. This would be cost-neutral, remove the bias against formal commitment, give couples a genuine choice, and most likely encourage unmarried couples to make some serious decisions about their future as a couple. In other words, commit properly and increase the odds of staying together.

  • grumpyashell

    I would not hold my breath about Hammond doing anything remotely uplifting,he is just another interfering big state Blairite who purports to be Conservative.
    I do hope I am wrong but all the indicators are that he will fiddle around the edges of things but is loathe to doing anything substantial in the budget when major reform is needed to make the whole tax system simpler.

  • lizmilton

    The plot to get rid of marriage comes from the
    Frankfurt school of subversion 11 point plan…see
    “The quiet revolution rolls forward “…

    “Encouraging the breakdown of the family unit”is just one of the points…the rest are clearly in operation

    And UN Agenda 21…check out the key objectives to make us into a Marxist country on

    Ukcolumn.org

    See how driverless cars fits in?…

    …” The abolition of private property and private transport
    The end of freedom of choice
    Continuous surveillance of the population
    Restructuring of the family unit “ etc etc
    And …nearly forget “Harmonisation of incomes and redistribution of wealth across the globe “ explains the Foreign Aid budget…

    Never mind “the end of national Parliaments
    The end of western democracy “

    We were/are well on our way to that…see
    “UK Parliament comes to an effective end”…

    Very strange how the sovereignty of Parliament only mattered to certain MP’s after the Referendum…before that, they were happy to give it all away…without most people even realising how they had been betrayed…again…

  • Simon Platt

    Tax allowances need to be made fully transferable between spouses. But, as you say, the Treasury has been at war with families for over 30 years, in which time my children have been been born and grown up, so I shan’t hold my breath.

  • Flaketime

    The real authority on this is Thomas Sowell the Stanford professor of economics. He grew up in the 1940s Harlem New York. He attributes crazy do gooding by hand wringing libtards who rewarded single parent families with state cash, sending the single parent rate from 20% to over 85%
    Without father figures the horrible gang culture evolved, and Black areas went from reasonable & high achievement to next to zero achievement. The libtards then invented ‘affirmative action’ which made things even worse!
    How can it possibly be right to pay someone who has worked and contributed to their NI so little that it is impossible to live on, while paying a woman who has a baby more than three times as much, plus a home as well, yet if her partner moves in with her his pittance goes down !

  • Mojo

    But Mrs May doesn’t have children. She will never have grandchildren. She is a feminist who believes women should be encouraged to have a career before they think about family. She is totally out of touch with the average to poorer woman who desperately wants to get married and have children. Who wants to stay at home and concentrate on her family. Mrs May only understands the rich, globalist high earners who have cheap nannies and chauffeurs or indeed the feminists who choose to marry their best female friend

  • Timmy

    You really think men aren’t getting married because of a potential tax bill. That is humorous. The Alimony loss is orders of magnitude higher than any tax bill.

  • John Smith

    Many thought it had
    ‘the Treasury might as well declare war on marriage’

    Easy to destroy difficult to ever get back

    You can imagine them looking back in 50 -100 yrs and asking why we helped destroy the family

  • Jeremiah Jones

    “Politicians on the Right are as blind as those on the Left …”
    You fall into the old, old fallacy of supposing that politicians calling themselves “Conservative” must mean that they are conservative. The Tory party is as much a party of the Left as Labour (Old or New) – just much less honest about it. Catch up with that and we might see some progress.

    Great article though. The reason there is no hope of seeing it happen is that we do not have a conservative party anywhere and Spreadsheet is the last man likely to attempt any of this.