Given all the speculation it was not a surprise: we have confirmation that marriage is again to be recognised in the tax system. From April 2015, just before the General Election, there will be a Married Couples tax allowance. A husband or wife (or civil partner) will be able to transfer £1,000 of their tax free allowance to their spouse. That figure of £1,000 is higher than the £750 promised in the Conservative manifesto. That means it will be worth around £200 a year – rather than the £150 a year that would previously have applied.
The attack from Labour came first. The Labour MP and Shadow Minister Chris Bryant said:
“It’s not a married tax allowance. It’s the unmarried tax.”
Good luck with getting that label to stick.
Labour voters support restoring this tax allowance – although by the narrow margin of 46 per cent to 44 per cent. That makes it hard for Labour to support it but foolish for them to attack it, as Mr Bryant has done. They would be better off trying to talk about something else.
However there is still a case Conservatives must make to persuade those who aren’t married that this is fair. Those who aren’t getting a tax cut may resent it that others are doing so. It should not be so hard as all that to win them over. Even those who have experienced the pain of divorce seldom conclude that marriage has no value as an institution. Many of those who aren’t married will not resent their parents or offspring or siblings getting this modest encouragement.
This instinctive, emotional support for marriage is backed up by plenty of cold hard data. This was a point the Prime Minister made in his article for the Daily Mail this morning:
There is good evidence about the positive role that marriage can play: study upon study has shown that families with married couples are less likely to break up.
There are also many studies about the cost of family breakdown. I am not for one minute arguing that marriage is a panacea, of course it isn’t.
But the real question is this: because marriage is an institution that helps to build a strong society, shouldn’t society properly recognise that in the tax system? Other countries do – I think we should too.
The main winners will be families where the mother stays at home to care for her children. This group has been neglected by politicians. Many argue that the tax system is presently penalised in the tax system. The argument about fairness should be seen in that context.
While marriage is traditional it is certainly not being consigned to the past. In 2011, the provisional number of marriages in England and Wales
increased by 1.7 per cent to 247,890, from 243,808 in 2010. In that same the number of divorces was down by 1.7 per cent.
Marriage doesn’t always work for the couples concerned. But as a social institution it works very much for the benefit of our country. It is good news for all of us that it is to be rewarded rather than punished.