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Nick Clegg forgets that many married couples struggle to pay their way

1 February 2013

4:15 PM

1 February 2013

4:15 PM

The disadvantage of live phone-in radio programmes is precisely that you don’t get to weigh your words. No doubt Nick Clegg would have expressed himself a bit differently on the subject of a transferable married couple’s tax allowance if he hadn’t had the subject thrown at him by a caller. But in response to a question on the issue, he said:

‘The more people will look at this, the more they will think… why should you be giving, whatever it is, £3 a week to married couples?’  Naturally, people took this as indicative of just how out of touch the ruling elite is from everyone else… three pounds a week? Pah! And you know what? I think they’re right.


Julius Caesar declared that he wanted men around him who were fat. In the case of government ministers precisely the opposite is true…they need men around them who are just a bit lean (or, I suppose, obese, if Anna Soubry is right that the poor are fat). That is, ministers need to be in touch with people who are really struggling to make ends meet. The overpowering impression you get from the government right now is of people who belong to a group for whom the odd fifty quid by way of child benefit, or the odd three quid by way of married person’s allowance, doesn’t really count for much. It’s precisely this problem of distance from the struggling middle classes, let alone from those at the bottom of the pile, that led the Chancellor so blithely to tax child benefit for those on the higher rate of income tax. He’d probably been hearing too much from the very well-to-do saying they spent their benefit on gin.

In this context, I think Ed Miliband is right to call, as he did in an interview with The House magazine, for parliament to be less middle class. He is going the right way about remedying matters: he’s seeking more candidates from former Army personnel, which is just what Labour should be doing. The real under-representation in parliament isn’t of women; it’s of ordinary workers. Granted, Milliband, and indeed Messrs Cameron and Osborne, is himself indicative of the problem, coming as he does from the caste of academics who manage to be both terrifically socially aware and rather well-provided-for. But at least the son of Ralph Miliband is conscious, as the Tories seem not to be, of the dearth of normal people in the party. We’re over-endowed, across all the parties, with PR people, special advisers and lawyers; we’re underprovided with ex-soldiers and train drivers.

So let me get back to Clegg and his breezy dismissal of the married person’s tax allowance. £150 a year, which is what a transferable tax allowance would mean for a basic rate couple, isn’t a fortune, but it would help make ends meet. It would signal that the government is in favour of stable marital relationships. It would align British practice with that of other European governments – France and Germany have no compunction about privileging families and married couples. And it would help rebalance the essential unfairness of the proposed tax relief for childcare, which is that it is directed at those families where both parents go out to work, at the expense of those families where one parent stays at home. (In my case, it is my husband who stays at home, at least for now, while I work, so I don’t have much truck with the notion that a transferable allowance is sexist.)

Some recognition that marriage is a useful institution, that the stay-at-home parent does a worthwhile job, that three pounds a week is worth having, would be salutary from Clegg. It would undeniably go down well with those married couples who, unlike him and Miriam and the rest of the government, struggle to pay their way.

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Show comments
  • HJ777

    What are we talking about here? An additional tax allowance just for being married, or transferable tax allowances between couples?

    The former is a nonsense, the latter entirely sensible, indeed proper.

    There is no reason why people should have higher tax allowances just for being married – after all, the old saying that ‘two can live as cheaply as one” has a lot of truth to it.

    However, when you are married, one partner may not be working. This might be because of children and it might be because of unemployment. In both these cases, the working partner is, in most respects, responsible for the financial support of the other (try getting most out-of-work benefits except the basic 6 months of contribution-based JSA if you have a working spouse). Therefore, the non-working spouse should be able to transfer their entire allowance to the working partner.

  • Gary Wintle

    Perhaps your lazy, feckless husband should go out and work, Melanie? IMHO Its healthy if both parents work, especially when the kids enter their teens, a time when they need space to define themselves and not be oppressed by ninnying control-freak emasculating mothers. The government should not be involved in people’s personal lives at all. If people stay single or marry that’s their own business, none of yours, none of mine, and certainly none of the government’s.
    Also, why should single people have to subsidize married couples?

  • Christian

    Personal allowance say £7500, basic rate tax 20%, so the savings are £1500 a year or £30 per week not £150 and £3. For 40% higher rate tax payers the transferred allowance would be worth £3000, or £60 per week.

    Worth reflecting on what’s happened here, with this debate, this piece of writing, these wrong numbers.

    • Tom Tom

      Better if married couples incorporated themseolves as Limited Companies and used Corporation Tax instead of personal income tax. Seemingly it is harder for businesses to get by in this country than married couples so Osborne constantly transfers the tax burden for incorporated businesses to individuals and partnerships

  • Boudicca_Icenii

    Parliament doesn’t represent US. Most of LibLabCON’s “front benches” are extremely wealthy, arrogant, elitist, out-of-touch members of The Establishment. They serve Big Business, the Bilderberg Committee and the EU – not the British people.
    They have NO understanding of the lives of ordinary working families and no connection with ordinary people – which is why ordinary people increasingly despise them.

    • Tom M

      “They have NO understanding of the lives of ordinary working families and no connection with ordinary people”.
      Quite correct but there is also a flip side to this. I remember recently that the government minister in charge of the education strategy for the country left school at 15 without any qualifications at all. His working life was as a postman. Now what would he know about running a country’s education system ?

  • Liberty

    What people forget is that everything the government pays us is taken from us in the first place – less 30% or so in admin costs. The reason so many of us are struggling is the huge cost of government, both in its scale and the constraints on our lives including in making a living. So there is never going to be a solution to welfare, etc until the the cost and incompetence of government is reduced and eliminated.

  • AnotherDaveB

    Dan Hodges had a rather different perspective on Mr Miliband’s call for more working class MP candidates:

    “The commitment to more “working-class candidates” has nothing to do with diversity. It’s about giving more influence to the trade union leaders who helped get Ed Miliband elected. The call for more people from a business background is a cosmetic attempt to shore up Labour’s crumbling business credentials. The call for more military candidates an attempt to show Labour can be trusted on defence.”

    • 2trueblue

      What pray does Millipede know about “working-calss candidates”? What does he know about anyone who works a straight week in the real world? He has been around long enough to get out and about and broaden his horizons and he truely knows little of the challenges that the working class encounter every day. I use working class to include those who get up each day and travel to work by personal/public transport that they personally pay for out of taxed income, and pay the full cost of their refreshment/food for that day at work. All MPs live in a totally different world where we subsidise their lifestyle and therefore are unaware of the value of what to them is a small amount. When they get to Westminster they all suffer form amnesia of what/why they are meant to be doing. The value of £150 is meaningless to those who can write an expenses slip that will rarely be questioned.

    • Gary Wintle

      Dan Hodges is a smug old elitist. Working class people have more common sense than academics, and unlike millitary types and police are not slaves of the state.

  • Fergus Pickering

    But why should they get it? I don’t think they should. If you want to stay at home, then stay at home, but don’t expect me to pay for it.

    • Tom Tom

      Noone expects you to pay for it – never did. It is simply that a spouse should NOT be taxed on it.

  • Paul W

    Marriage allowance as such is not a problem. It allows a little boost to those who struggle in the first years of building a family – I was one of those where one Christmas we couldn’t afford even a chicken for our little family (and baby makes 3). And I am told that a conventional family life is better for children than the alternatives suggested by modernity.

    What is definitely wrong is the giving away of billions to fund over-sized families. What on earth is the need for child allowance for a family with more than 2 or 3 children?

    In this day and age such family sizes are a lifestyle choice and in no way should society pay for family sizes based on carelessness, fecklessness or unsubstantiated religious beliefs.

    • Ian Walker

      Because of all the ‘dinkys’ that decide to have a rather lovely lifestyle all to themselves, while ignoring the basic point of all life on earth. In short, since some people sire less than one child on average, others have to pick up the slack. The alternative is to replace the shortfall with immigrants, but I’ve heard that’s rather unpopular.

      • 2trueblue

        So those who chose to work and contribute to the economy are not valid members of society? What makes yo think that those who have large families are doing so purely to contribute to society?

  • AnotherDaveB

    Ruth Porter had an excellent piece in the WSJ on the marriage tax allowance:

    “…government policy perpetuates a system that encourages single parenthood and discourages couples from raising a child together. The financial penalties for coupling are worst for those on low incomes. So the Britons hardest hit by welfare spending’s anti-family bias are those at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.

    These perverse outcomes are the in part the unintended consequences of a disconnect between the tax and welfare systems. Benefits are based on household income, but the tax code recognizes only individual incomes. Recognizing the existence of families in the tax code would be a start.”

    • Gary Wintle

      What business is that of the government? You seriously want to give the state power and knowledge of people’s personal lives?

      • AnotherDaveB

        They already have the knowledge.

  • Tom Tom

    There is a principle of not taxing SUBSISTENCE which appears to be missing in the UK. If you tax subsistence some people will automatically be better off on Benefits than Working. The German Constitutional Court made Merkel go away and revise the German Tax Code because it failed to provide tax-free income to support Subsistence of Children and taxed their parents on Subsistence. Clegg should stop being a rich banker’s son and start learning that NO Incomes belong to The State and ALL Incomes belong to those who generate them by their own efforts – The State is a Servant NOT a Master

  • Radford_NG

    There was a married couples tax allowance until 30 yrs.ago when it was abolished by the `Wets` at the demand of the feminist lobby.Prior to that there would be a `rush to marriage`before the end of the tax year to take advantage of it:showing it does work.

  • David Ossitt

    I posted this a little while ago but it did not get past the censor, perhaps it was because I used the tw*t word?

    Melanie McDonagh, what you should always bear in mind is that despite his upper-middle class upbringing and an education that most of us can only dream of, this man is not very bright.

    Compound this ith his dishonesty and you have what you see a real two faced, self serving idiot with few if any redeeming features.

    • Tom Tom

      Without his upper class upbringing like Cameron Clegg would be a junior in some family business with Volvo and golf clubs…….no self-respecting country would let this Wooster-types near anything approaching government

      • Fergus Pickering

        Oh come sir. Look around you. Look at the President of France. What a klutz. Look at the Prime Minister of Italy, any Prime Minister of Italy. Look at the people who shared Greek government for thirty years. Then there was George W. Gordon Brown. I think I’d prefer Cleggie to ANY of those.

    • fitz fitzgerald

      Wee Clegg is a pwick. A prize pwick.

  • Joe marjoram

    They just don’t get the middle classes. Having spoken to police officers, teachers, doctors and business owners on the school run every day for 2 years this is clearly a widely held view. If can and co think they can turn it round it only reinforces my view that they are, indeed, hopelessly out of touch. In 2015 we could get utterly thrashed, which given labours record, is quite something.

    • Tom Tom

      They simply DESPISE the middle classes and think it is hip to go on about “the poor” as some sociological abstraction

      • 2trueblue

        What I would like to know is what defines ‘middle class’? The idea that Millipede understands it is even more ridiculous. The reality is that once the MPs get to Westminster they join an elite group that is so rarefied we cease to exist, no matter what they class us as. They live in the rarefied atmosphere where we pay for everything they do, eat, sleep, live. So how do they then reconcile that scenario with us? We get up, go to work. we pay for all the facilities that we use out of our taxed income.

        Millipede grew up and lived a rarefied life in a left wing hierarchy atmosphere in central London, where W Benn came to tea frequently. Frankly there is little difference between the ruling elite in parliament today.

        • Tom Tom

          Yes how did Milipede live so well when his old man entered illegally and was an academic ? Strange since they are paid on a national pay scale – must have struck gold somewhere

          • 2trueblue

            You tell me.

  • DWWolds

    I seem to remember an earlier article by Melanie when she admitted how much she spends on frocks. £150 would even buy the sleeves of one of them.

  • Daniel Maris

    £150. I make that about 30 medium sized chickens per annum – enough to cover the main meals of a family of four for 2 whole months (in terms of meat). So certainly not to be sniffed at.

    I think more and more of the lower middle classes in London are being dragged into a budget lifestyle, which wasn’t what they signed up for when doing all those exams and applying themselves to a career. Why bother if you are going to end up with less disposable income than someone who can’t be bothered with education and responsibility at work?

    Welcome to the post-affluent world where CEOs get 27% pay rises in the middle of a triple dip recession and millions of lower middle class people suffer real terms pay cuts year after year. Many haven’t seen any improvement in their disposable income at all this millennium.

    • Tom Tom

      Nicholas William Peter Clegg….the third of four children of Nicholas Peter Clegg, CBE, the chairman of United
      Trust Bank,[5]
      and a former trustee of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation[6]
      (where Ken Clarke was an adviser[7]).
      On his father’s side of the family Clegg is related to Kira von
      Engelhardt, daughter of a Russian baron of German, Polish, and Ukrainian
      origin, Ignaty Zakrevsky, an attorney general of the Imperial Russian senate,[8][9]
      the writer Moura Budberg,[10]
      and his English grandfather Hugh Anthony Clegg,
      editor of the British
      Medical Journal for 35 years…………… I simply reject Clegg as being adequately qualified to opine on ANYTHING.

      • Daniel Maris

        No good will come of a banker’s brood! LOL