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February 28, 2007

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Bob B

What's new about all this? IPPR, the eminently Blairite think-tank, after researching the issues concluded last November that Britain's youth were among the worst in Europe:

"Britain's teenagers are among the most badly behaved in Europe, a study by a think-tank has suggested. On every indicator of bad behaviour - drugs, drink, violence, promiscuity - the UK was at or near the top, said the Institute for Public Policy Research.

"The institute looked at the results of a number of studies of adolescents conducted in recent years. The researchers believe the country's record can be explained by a collapse in family and community life in the UK."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6108302.stm

"As the new IPPR report puts it: 'Commentators fear that British youth is on the verge of mental breakdown, at risk from anti-social behaviour, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse. These concerns are, to an extent, borne out.'"
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6109916.stm

Our politicians have just been tardy in recognising that this is all part of Tony Blair's enduring legacy from after nine years of New Labour government. This news report from last April on road accident statistics was an early indicator that cannot now be brushed aside as an irrelevant symptom:

"THE death rate among young drivers has doubled in the past five years, prompting demands for greater restrictions on those who have recently passed their tests. The steady improvement in road safety across the general population is masking a sharp increase in the number of drivers aged under 20 having fatal crashes, despite a tougher driving test."
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3223-2116254,00.html

Mark Wadsworth

Tax breaks for marriage is, taken in isolation, absolute nonsense.

But it does seem fair to look at the tax and benefits system as a whole. It is quite clear (for instance) that if an unemployed or low-earning couple separates, the combined total post-housing net income of the two new households is consderably higher (between £150 and £200 a week higher, according to the DWP's tax and benefit model tables).

It'd be cheaper and better to reduce such inducives to single/absent parenthood than it would to try and prop up marriage with tax breaks.

Oh, great, I've got the conversation back round to the Citizen's Income, which treats all adults the same, regardless of relationship status...

Mark Wadsworth

not "inducives", I meant to write "inducements".

Milton

Citizens' Incomes aside...

The best case against taxes breaks for marriage are that:
a) it only helps the middle class (which is not where the problems of breakdown end up). It's stupid for the same reasons as raising thresholds is a waste of money - you can't help the poor through the income tax system.

b) there are already big tax breaks for marriage for the middle classes through IHT and CGT - they're worth more than any poxy allowance could be...

Mark Wadsworth

Erm, Milton.

IHT raises £3bn or so a year, barely half a percent of total tax receipts.

This is broadly speaking roughly equivalent to half the cost of fraud and error in the means-tested benefit system, that certainly does not particularly benefit the "middle classes". Or broadly equivalent to half the admin costs of running the means tested benefit system (which to be fair probably does the benefit the middle classes - they're the ones who get all the cushy civil service jobs).

If you want a better example of a really s*** middle class tax break, how about tax relief for pensions contributions? It costs £40-odd billion in tax (almost as much as the Basic State Pension), half the value of the relief accrues to higher rate taxpayers (i.e. the top ten percent), one quarter to the insurance companies, and the remaining one quarter to the Great Unwashed.

Now that is a tax break worth getting upset about!!

PS I am morally against inheritance tax and don't get me started on capital gains tax.

Sam

I'm quite partial to the US approach, where a married couple can file a joint tax return (so if, say, one parent stays home to raise the children, his tax allowances can be applied to his spouse's income.)

How do I justify giving tax breaks to a couple, but not to the infamous pair of cohabiting sisters? Well, I can't, really. The thing I actually want to avoid is the tax incentive for both partners to work that is present in the current system - I think the tax system ought to be neutral on how a family chose to arrange their affairs.

Conveniently enough, a CBI and a flat rate of income tax accomplishes exactly the effect I want (and allows our sisters the freedom to arrange their affairs as they choose, too.)

Maria

Just a few things worth querying:

1. "An average marriage in which kids are brought up averagely well creates no benefits to others..."

Does it not? Does the upbringing of law-abiding, community-minded members of the public create NO benefits to others?

... the world is already more than adequately stocked with people ..."

Er really? What about the below replacement level birthrates in a lot of EU countries?

2. " ... But do we really want kids to be brought up by the sort of folk who marry for money?"

Lets pose that question slightly differently. We know that marriage is good for children for all sorts of reasons, not least because their parents are more likely to stay together than cohabiting couples. However, we wouldn't want to be in the business of determining who does or does not have children, which would be a gross infringement of individual liberty.
So do we want adults to take their responsibilities as parents seriously and encourage them to marry? Or, do we value children enough to disincentivise family breakup?

3. "When Cameron calls for tax breaks for marriage, he's not addressing a social problem ..."

But arguably he is if only in a roundabout way. He's expressing himself as pro-marriage rather than anti-family breakup, though the two mean much the same thing. Family breakdown *is* a social problem. No one doubts that. But whether tax-breaks for married couples alone are an effective means of reducing the rate of broken homes is doubtful.

bird dog

Every redistribution or tax break is a bribe to voters. That's what democracy means these days: Gimme more.

Praguetory

Amen to Maria.

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