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Tories to increase benefits?

July 10th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 4 Comments · Politics

I see that Call-Me-Dave Cameron is again flying a few kites with a variety of policy suggestions he is trying to link together as addressing ‘social breakdown’.

I can only imagine that he truly believes in it – he would not be trying to alienate such diverse groups as drinkers, single parents, local education authorities and boards of directors just for the sake of it.

I am surprised that the newspaper article did not make more of the plans to turn 600 schools into ‘pioneer schools’ which would still be funded by the local taxpayer but would be totally removed from local authority control. Whatever happened to the idea of “no taxation without representation”?

A good word for his ideas on alcohol – 7p on a pint of beer or 25p on a bottle of Scotch to fund treatment for alcohol abuse – is ‘brave’. I don’t think its necessarily a bad idea, but isn’t this coming from the party which constantly accuses the government of increasing taxes? As a virtual non-drinker I can’t get excited one way or the other about the price of booze, and it judging by the amounts which are drunk alcohol does seem to be cheap now compared to incomes, but I know that a lot of voters get touchy about taxes on alcohol, almost as much as they do about duty on petrol. Going for an unpopular policy rather than always trying to please everyone all the time is a bit of a change of direction.

Changing spliffs from category C to category B sounds to me like ill-conceived pandering to popular opinion though, but I can’t argue that companies do not give enough to charity. Mind you, if they didn’t jump through so many loopholes to avoid paying the full levels of taxes maybe we would not need to be relying on charities quite so much.

What I really don’t like to see though is the idea that society can be fixed by preventing marriage breakups and that they can be prevented by financial incentives. It seems like a throwback to the Major years.

I’m sure that families with two stable parents and two incomes (or one decent one) are more likely to contain better-behaved children with better prospects, but when will the Tory party realise that not everyone is motivated purely by financial incentives just because they are.

I remember in the 80s, in that 5-year period when MIRAS applied to couples, when some colleagues at work were actually making plans about whether to get married based on how it would affect their mortgage tax relief – but none of them were what you would call struggling.

Cameron says:

we need to go right through our tax and benefits system and ask ourselves why is it encouraging people to live separately?

But is it really encouraging people to live separately? And is that a bad thing?

I don’t think the tax system is encouraging people to live separately in the sense that a happily-married couple will split up because they would be better-off on their own. The incentives would have to be pretty large for that to happen. It may be true that partners who are unhappy are encouraged to split up in the sense that a disincentive for doing so is removed – because there is a safety net which will prevent them suffering too much if they do so.

Whether removing a disincentive is the same as adding an incentive is a fine distinction.

Should we instead have a system which makes it financially so painful to split up that women in an abusive relationship will have to stick with it because they cannot afford not to? That is the logical alternative.

Is the problem really that the benefits are too low? When single-income families split up it creates, by definition, a no-income family and usually the half with the children is the half without an income. The welfare safety net, tax credits, benefits and CSA provide enough for them to survive, to keep a roof over their heads and not starve, but not enough to really nurture and develop the children.

All I can see in these proposals is an outcome where those who would stay together anyway get a bit of a bonus for doing so, and those who find themselves trapped in a dead-end relationship get punished for doing something about it. The tendency will be towards putting a bit more in the direction of those who are already OK at the expense of those with real problems. Again. In that respect it really is a typical Tory policy and I hope it gets seen for what it is.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Danny Boy

    It seems the mantra of Cuddly Conservatism now reads: “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state. Except when we can treat people like children, and bribe them into living how we want. That’s common sense.”

    What a marvellous way for policy-makers to be spending their time.

  • skud's sister

    How can, basically, paying people to be married help ‘the family’? I asked my boss (married, two small kids) how it would benefit his family if Rob and I (married, no kids, no intentions) were to get the same tax break as him? Why not just try to get the tax credit system sorted – something that helps lower income families with children, no matter what their marital status, has got to be putting the money where it is needed.

  • Danivon

    Surely if people need to be bribed to marry, they aren’t that committed to the idea, and are more likely to split up later on.

    So this might actually end up undermining marriage as an institution. Is that what the Tories want?

    Or do they think that they should give financial disincentives to battered wives to leave their abusive husbands.

    Remind me, this is about ‘family values’, right?

  • Tim Almond

    It’s all nostalgia, an attempt to roll back the clock to some golden age.

    I don’t believe for a moment that couples were any more or less happy then than now. What I think instead is that people had less choices then. Women had far less independence, the welfare state didn’t exist. You got the wrong man, you were stuck with him.