THE BLOG

Help, Don't Judge - An Alternative Budget

18/03/2014 17:37 GMT | Updated 18/05/2014 10:59 BST

The chancellor is set to confirm the transferable marriage tax allowance in his Budget on Wednesday. Reportedly he is personally opposed to the idea. As is the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. But despite this the policy looks set to go ahead with this Budget establishing the legal grounding for the tax break.

At Don't Judge My Family, the campaign against the marriage tax allowance, we believe these proposals are outdated and discriminatory. The £200 allowance only goes to a third of married couples - those with a breadwinner and a homemaker. Less than 20% of all families with children will benefit and the policy discriminates against single parents, widows and widowers, unmarried couples or couples where both work. The very poorest won't be helped as one earner in the household has to earn at least £10,000 to qualify.

But what if the chancellor actually followed his instincts? What if he said no to this outdated proposal? What if instead of judging families he chose to help them?

Last year we asked for better ways government could spend £700 million to help families, support relationships or given children a better start in life. Our call for evidence received hundreds of ideas for how the £700 million earmarked for marriage tax breaks could be better spent. Our report Help Don't Judge showcases the 24 most popular ideas. You can find out more about them here.

So what might be better than a marriage tax allowance? For a start, what about increased access to relationship counselling? Something which might actually help save a struggling relationship. Unlike the proposed marriage tax break which even David Cameron acknowledges won't stop anyone from getting a divorce.

Alternatively, the government could focus on grandparents and other kinship carers. Up to 300,000 children in the UK live with grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members, usually due to parental drug or alcohol misuse, death, illness or disability, domestic violence or imprisonment. It would cost £12 billion each year if these children were in care. Government could provide financial and practical help for grandparents and other kinship carers who have done the right thing and stepped in to bring up a vulnerable child and keep them out of care.

Or what about investing in family support services which can be a vital life line for families facing difficulties? In this current climate, when many local authorities have had to reduce their provision, an investment in early intervention services could make a real difference to the life chances of many.

The government may believe that sending a signal about marriage is worth £700 million a year. But it is not likely that marriage tax breaks will encourage people to get married or stay married. Even if they did, there is no evidence that encouraging people to marry is a useful outcome. Supporters of the policy argue that marriage is vital to the outcomes of children. But they confuse correlation and causation. Children of married parents often have better outcomes than those of co-habiting parents because people who chose to marry have higher educational qualifications and income than those who don't. Simply getting a wedding certificate won't change outcomes for children.

So will George Osbourne take the opportunity to say no to a marriage tax allowance? Sadly this seems unlikely. In fact he is under pressure to take the policy further. In the last week we've seen calls for him to extend the allowance to include all married couples. Given that you'd still need a homemaker with unspent allowance and a breadwinner to benefit from a transferable allowance this still wouldn't help a married couple both working full time on the minimum wage. So this proposal isn't about better targeting the 4/5ths of families who are currently ineligible. Instead it appears to be about widening access to the allowance for those in the upper tax bracket who aren't currently set to receive it. These same commentators have also called for the size of the allowance to be increased. This would deepen the discriminatory impact on those who are ineligible for little or no purpose except to signal support for a particular type of relationship above another.

The marriage tax break in its current form is set to cost £700million a year. Widening access to benefit those earning more than £42,000 would cost a lot more. But even spending £700million on such a judgmental policy is a scandal. In these tough times government should be focused on helping families, not judging them. Sign our petition today to ask the chancellor to go back to the drawing board and scrap the marriage tax allowance.