Planned tax breaks for UK married couples rapped as 1950s throwback

LONDON Sat Sep 28, 2013 4:36pm BST

A newly married couple pose for a photograph in the snow opposite the Houses of Parliament, in central London in this December 18, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/Files

A newly married couple pose for a photograph in the snow opposite the Houses of Parliament, in central London in this December 18, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Eddie Keogh/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Activists and opponents accused Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron of discriminating against single parents and promoting a fantasy 1950s lifestyle through his plans to give tax breaks to some married couples.

Fulfilling a long-standing pledge by his Conservative party to "recognise marriage in the tax system", Cameron has proposed married couples in which neither spouse is a higher-rate taxpayer should get breaks worth up to 200 pounds ($320) a year.

If approved by parliament, the measure will come into force in April 2015, just one month before the next national election. It is expected to benefit around 4 million couples.

"All we're saying is that marriage is a good thing for our country - it's the ultimate form of commitment under the law - and we want to show our support for it," Cameron wrote in an article published in Saturday's Daily Mail newspaper.

The measure will also apply to same-sex couples in civil partnerships. From next year, same-sex couples will be able to marry under a new law passed by parliament in July.

"This summer I was proud to make equal marriage the law. Love is love, commitment is commitment," Cameron wrote.

The main opposition Labour party said the measure would benefit a minority of married couples to the detriment of other groups, and any benefit was outweighed by a range of welfare benefit cuts introduced by Cameron's government since 2010.

"He's so out of touch he thinks people will get married for 3.85 pounds a week," lawmaker Rachel Reeves said for the party.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman took to Twitter to denounce possible consequences of Cameron's plan. "Married man's tax allowance will go to man on his third wife but not to first two wives looking after his children!" she tweeted.

A campaign group called Don't Judge My Family said the plan discriminated against widows and widowers, single parents, the one in four children whom it said grow up in single parent families, and unmarried cohabiting couples, among other groups.

"It's about promoting a fantasy 1950s family and won't go to many of the families who need support the most. In these tough times the government should be helping families, not judging them," the group said on its website.

The Conservatives' junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, said the measure was "the wrong priority".

"You don't build a fairer society by using the tax system to favour one type of family over another," said Lib Dem treasury spokesman Stephen Williams.

"It is also not clear to me why a single person should pay more tax on their income than someone who is married," he said.

Under the coalition agreement signed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems in 2010, Lib Dem lawmakers will be able to abstain on a bill introducing the measure without breaking the alliance.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (4)
garthbanks wrote:
Marriage means a mutual commitment and is a glue to many. The parenting of a child should come from a marriage, women are not baby factories or playthings and should be respected. If one side of a marriage is stay-at-home then the other should get some tax benefit to help. In my view a simile is traffic lights at crossroads, without them the crossing is dangerous, with them there is a reduction in danger.

Sep 28, 2013 3:50pm BST  --  Report as abuse
ActionDan wrote:
For all his rhetoric about marriage, it is clear that the current system is totally disparaging of any form of committed relationship.

a) Allow the personal allowance to be transferrable
b) Allow people to claim benefits on an individual basis regardless of relationship status.

It seems totally out of order that taxes are paid on an individual basis but benefits take the partner’s earnings into account. This needs rectifying one way or the other. If making the personal allowance transferable is a “throwback to the 1950s”, then surely making benefits dependent on partner’s earnings is also an out-of-date concept in todays individualistic society!

Sep 29, 2013 10:44am BST  --  Report as abuse
JimGoddard wrote:
As a Labour Party member, I disagree with the Conservatives on many things. On this, however, I am fully in favour of their proposal. Unfortunately, the above article fails to mention the word ‘children’. The only – but overwhelmingly important – reason for supporting marriage through the tax system is to encourage the provision of greater stability, consistency and long-term loving care for children. Encouraging birth parents to publicly express long-term commitment to each other and to their joint children through marriage is clearly central to that. The state, and society in general, should not remain neutral about lifestyle choices that affect the long-term welfare of children and, by extension, all of us.

Sep 30, 2013 11:35am BST  --  Report as abuse
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