The country’s birth rate is declining and we’ll be faced with a shortage of workers in the future. The solution posed by one Oxford academic? Tax the people who don’t have kids.
In an article published by the Sunday Times this weekend, demographer Dr Paul Morland puts forward some suggestions for “incentivising families to have more children and to have them when they are younger”.
“Introduce a ‘negative child benefit’ tax for those who do not have offspring,” he says. “This may seem unfair on those who can’t or won’t have children, but it recognises that we all rely on there being a next generation and that everyone should contribute to the cost of creating that generation.”
He then suggests the UK could “use the funds to fix the UK’s broken, expensive early-years care system”.
Lucky you, if you want to have children but can’t – you can simply pay for everyone else’s instead. Never mind the fact that you may want to save up for fertility treatment, which already costs upwards of £5,000 per cycle and is quietly being removed from NHS provision.
And if you don’t want kids at all? Well, you deserve to be financially punished for being so selfish, apparently.
As the Women’s Equality Party – and many others – pointed out in the wake of the article, there’s an alternative solution that would help women who want to become parents to do so, which doesn’t trample over other women’s bodily autonomy. It’s called universal free childcare.
The UK has some of the worst childcare support in Europe, with parents now paying an average of more than £7,000 per year just for a part-time nursery place. In some areas of the country, it’s even higher.
Almost two thirds of families are paying more, or the same, for their childcare as they do their rent or mortgage.
But charging childless – or childfree – people to bring down these costs really, really isn’t the answer.
As Alonement author Francesca Specter asked on Twitter: “What fresh hell is this?” Because in the context of the Roe vs Wade repeal in America – which has eradicated women’s legal right to an abortion and already forced women to continue with unwanted or unsafe pregnancies – the article feels particularly grim.
This Gilead-esque plan to turn women into prize breeders via tax penalties is not just dark, it’s also pretty dumb.
Journalist Harry Kind was among those pointing out the holes in the proposed policy. “Would the tax kick in at 18 or do you prefer to only tax the childless 30+? And does it stop post menopause? And if you get a divorce do you bring the tax benefit with you or does that depend on custody of the kid? If you have a child then put it up for adoption does it count?” he asked.
“Do I get it if I adopt a child even though I’ve not helped boost the population? What about if I’m a sperm donor? Do you only tax married couples? What about single people? Just straight people? Can I offset my childless tax from 30-35 by having two children after I turn 36?
“Was the tax a proportion of income or is it a poll tax? Meaning it either punishes the childless rich or the childless poor more. Do you need to start paying the tax again if you lose a child? Is the tax levied on everyone or just women? How do they prove you’re childless?”
Others have pointed out that people without kids already pay towards the costs of childcare and education. It’s just called... tax?
Some alternatives might include higher taxes for billionaires, immigration policies that welcome and train-up workers globally, and resisting the urge to spend £15m on Jubilee pageants. Just a thought.
Scoffs and sarcasm aside, articles like this can have huge implications for women’s mental health. As writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy pointed out, even tabling this as a possibility paints a disturbing picture of how people without children are valued in society.
If you’ve had a miscarriage, you are not a failure. If you don’t want kids, you are not selfish. Conversations around fertility are tricky enough, without a hypothetical tax thrown in.
The tax concept is just one of the weird suggestions in the piece – Morland also recommends a telegram from the Queen whenever a family has a third child. Because you know what will really ease the blow of childcare costs? A letter from a woman with an estimated net worth of £370m.
He later recommends looking to our prime minister and his “seven known offspring” for inspiration... we’ll leave you to make your own mind up about that.
There’s also very little detail on how these baby making policies might impact the planet, with no alternative solutions offered to deal with the labour shortage while also protecting the earth’s dwindling resources. Good luck to the next generation we’ve just fired out, eh?
If Morland’s article suggests the death of women’s bodily autonomy, the final nail in the coffin is his closing point on education. He says the UK should “educate people that getting pregnant becomes more difficult with age” – like women do not already know this.
One saving grace is the poll at the bottom of the article, which asks readers if they think we need a population plan to encourage a higher birth rate. At the time of writing, almost three-quarters (73%) have said ‘no’.
Thank goodness for common sense.