This Thursday the Chancellor gives his Autumn Statement. With the economic upturn shaky at best we can expect little in the way of good news and plenty more squeezing of budgets. Except, that is, for one thing. It appears that the Chancellor has £700million to spare on a measure that even its supporters claim won't any difference. So what's the truth? Are we in the grip of a near permanent austerity? Or do we have some cash to burn? Things are certainly a little confusing.
And I think we can be forgiven for being a little confused. After all, a marriage tax allowance really doesn't make much sense. It is not as if it will lead to anyone getting, or staying, married. Most married couples, including those who are both working, don't have the 'right kind of marriage' to qualify as they don't have a breadwinner and a homemaker. They therefore won't get anything. And neither will widows, widowers, single parents or cohabiting couples. Only 18% of families with children will benefit from marriage tax breaks.
At Don't Judge My Family, the campaign against the marriage tax allowance, we don't believe that Government should be spending public money promoting their ideal 'fantasy 1950s family'. In these tough times, the government should be helping people not judging them. So we asked for suggestions for better ideas. How might the Government better use £700m a year to support families, sustain relationships or give children the best start in life? We received hundreds of well thought through and passionate responses and yesterday we launched a report detailing some of these.
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 perhaps the Government could cancel its proposed cuts to benefits for widowed parents? It is estimated that 90% of new claimants will be worse off under the new Bereavement Support Payments with those with younger children particularly adversely affected. Many predict this will mean widowed parents having to work full-time instead of spending time with their bereaved children.
Or what about scrapping the Bedroom Tax? Something which is causing stress and misery for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families yet is predicted to save only £470million a year. Far less than the amount the Chancellor has put aside to 'send a signal' about marriage.
The Government may believe that sending a signal about marriage is worth £700million 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. Although marriage is often cited as leading to stability and better outcomes, supporters of marriage tax breaks confuse correlation with cause. People with higher educational qualifications and incomes are more likely to marry and it's those attributes, rather than a marriage certificate, that leads to them being more stable and their children doing better.
We believe that great families come in all shapes and sizes and that the Government's job is to help families, not judge them. This December we're showcasing twenty four great ideas, all of which are loads better than a marriage tax allowance, in our Help Don't Judge advent calendar. Why not take a look and find out how £700m could be better spent supporting families, sustaining relationships or giving children the best start in life.