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Nick Wood: Another pounding for the traditional family. Will the Tories have any voters left?


Keep the champagne on ice, especially if you are one of many middle class families with a lone breadwinner on around £60,000 a year.

Under a Conservative government, you have already lost £1,750 a year if you have two children because of the decision to scrap child benefit for the better off. You have also seen your threshold for paying tax at 40p stripped of its historic value. And, as announced just before the Budget, you will not be getting a penny of the new childcare subsidy worth £2,000 per child that kicks in after the election next year.

Backbench Tory protests at the Chancellor’s refusal to lift the 40p threshold to something like its former value (£75,000 in the late 1970s) came to nothing. The threshold is going up by a piffling one per cent.

The middle classes, especially those who believe that children are happier and healthier and do better in life if they spend their early years with their mothers, have suffered another battering. By the end of this Parliament some five million will be paying a rate of tax once reserved for City fat-cats.

Meanwhile, their child benefit payments are effectively being re-routed into childcare subsidies for two-earner families where the upper limit for help is a whopping £300,000 a year of income. Scrapping child benefit for the better off saved the Treasury about £1.5 billion a year.

The childcare hand-out costs half that ­ about £750 million a year.

But the appalling and mounting bias in the tax system against the surviving two million one-earner families is only the culmination of a long process by which the middle classes have seen their stake in the post-war welfare state gradually eroded. What next? Means-testing free state schooling or NHS care?

As the Financial Times pointed out last week, some £20 billion a year is spent on tax credits for lower-income working families. But for the middle classes, the traffic is all the other way. They pay a bigger and bigger share of all tax receipts, their entitlement from the state pension has been cut, they have lost their access to direct grant schools and then the assisted places scheme, they no longer get free university tuition for their children.

Mortgage interest tax relief (Miras) is now a historical curiosity, the married couple’s allowance was scrapped and then reintroduced in enfeebled form by the Coalition (though not until 2015 via a transferable tax allowance).

Strangely, a lot of this, though not all, has happened under Conservative chancellors. George Osborne, the scourge of the stay-at-home mum and the “middling professionals” who now attract the belated sympathy of former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, is not alone in pursuing a vendetta against his own voters.

So who will vote Conservative now that the whole thrust of fiscal policy is directed at the lower paid and the double-income family? Who will stand up for traditional family structures, which benefit their local communities as much as the individuals concerned? Who is the pillar of the Prime Minister’s now discarded Big Society if it is not the mother at home caring for her children?

In May we have the European elections. There will be a chance to find out how many of their former supporters the Conservatives can count on.

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Nick Wood
Nick Wood
Chief Executive of Media Intelligence Partners

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