David Cameron's tax breaks for married couples will mainly benefit rich, say Labour

David Cameron today put marriage at the heart of his election battle — but failed to say who would benefit from his flagship policy.

The Tory leader finally committed himself to introducing tax breaks for married couples within five years of winning power.

But the 15-word pledge stopped short of saying which groups would be eligible for the support which could be limited given the dire financial state.

This means the Conservatives may go into the general election, expected in May, with the promise to recognise marriage in the tax system but without giving details.

But Labour claimed the policy would mainly benefit rich married couples where one of the partners stayed at home. Children's Secretary Ed Balls also said the scheme would tell unmarried parents that their children were “less worthy of support”.

Mr Cameron's draft section of his party's manifesto on the family states: “We will recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system in the next Parliament. This will send an important signal that we value the commitment that people make when they get married.”

Shadow Cabinet minister David Willetts, responsible for family policy, stressed options being discussed included transferable income tax allowances, married couple allowances or limiting it to married couples with children, aged up to three or six.

But Mr Balls claimed the transferable income tax allowance for married couples would cost £4.9 billion and penalise some couples. “You say to the widow, to the single parent You are going to get less, your child is less worthy of support,” he added.

The Tory draft promises to provide 4,200 more health visitors to families and to extend flexible work hours to all parents with children under 18.

Married Couple's Allowance - includes civil partnershipsEdit

The age-related Married Couple's Allowance is an amount that we take off your tax bill - so it only applies if you pay tax. If you don’t pay tax, or if your tax bill isn't high enough to use up all of your Married Couple’s Allowance, you can transfer any unused allowance to your spouse or civil partner if they pay tax.

Who can claim Married Couple’s Allowance?Edit

If you were married before 5 December 2005Edit

If you are married and living together and at least one spouse was born before 6 April 1935, the husband can claim Married Couple’s Allowance. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) reduce your tax bill by 10 per cent of the Married Couple’s Allowance to which you're entitled. The actual amount depends on the husband's income.

If one of you dies, or if you divorce or separate, you'll get Married Couple’s Allowance for the whole of that tax year.

If you married on or after 5 December 2005 or are in a civil partnershipEdit

If you are married or in a civil partnership and living together and at least one spouse or partner was born before 6 April 1935, the person with the higher income can claim Married Couple’s Allowance.

HMRC reduce the claimant's tax bill by 10 per cent of the Married Couple’s Allowance to which he or she is entitled. The actual amount depends on the income of the spouse or civil partner with the higher income.

Period from which Married Couple’s Allowance is effectiveEdit

In the year that you marry or form a civil partnership, HMRC reduce your entitlement to Married Couple’s Allowance by one twelfth for each complete tax month before the date of your marriage or civil partnership. For example if you married or formed a civil partnership on 24 March, you would only receive one twelfth, or one month's worth, of the allowance for that tax year. If one of you dies, or the marriage or civil partnership dissolves or you separate, you'll get the Married Couple’s Allowance you are due for that tax year.

How much Married Couple’s Allowance might you get?Edit

The maximum amount of Married Couple’s Allowance is £7,295 and the minimum amount is £2,800 for the 2011-12 tax year. You receive 10 per cent of the allowance amount - which means your tax saving (based on a full year's eligibility) is at least £280 and up to £729.50. The actual amount depends on the claimant's income - as explained below.

Effect of claimant's income on Married Couple’s AllowanceEdit

If your income is over £24,000 (before any allowances in 2011-12 tax year) HMRC will reduce the Married Couple’s Allowance in the same way that your age-related Personal Allowance can be reduced.

The amount of the reduction is worked out as follows:

  • HMRC deduct half of your income - £1 for every £2 - that's over the limit from your age-related Personal Allowance, until the basic level of Personal Allowance is reached
  • HMRC take anything that's left off the Married Couple’s Allowance, until they reach the minimum amount - you'll always get the minimum Married Couple’s Allowance (10 per cent of £2,800)
  • if your income doesn't reduce the age-related Personal Allowance to the basic level, then HMRC don't reduce the Married Couple’s Allowance

Worked exampleEdit

You’re 76, entitled to Married Couple’s Allowance and have income before allowances of £29,600. HMRC subtract the income limit (£24,000) from your income before allowances (£29,600) - this shows that you’re £5,600 over the limit. HMRC take half of this (£2,800) off your allowances like this:

  • first HMRC reduce your higher age-related Personal Allowance of £10,090 by £2,615 to the minimum basic Personal Allowance of £7,475 - this leaves £185 (£2,800 less £2,615)
  • next HMRC subtract £185 from the Married Couple’s Allowance entitlement (£7,295) bringing it down to £7,110
  • your Married Couple’s Allowance is £711.00 (10 per cent of £7,110)

This is the amount by which HMRC will reduce your tax bill

How to claim Married Couple’s AllowanceEdit

To claim Married Couple’s Allowance you simply telephone your Tax Office or write to HMRC giving details of your marriage/civil partnership ceremony and spouse/civil partner (including date of birth). If you fill in a Self Assessment tax return HMRC will ask you to include details of your Married Couple’s Allowance claim.

Transferring your Married Couple’s Allowance to your spouse or civil partner after the end of the tax yearEdit

If you don’t pay tax, or if your tax bill isn't high enough to use up all of your Married Couple’s Allowance, you can use form 575 Notice of transfer of surplus Income Tax allowances after the end of the tax year to transfer any unused allowance to your spouse or civil partner if they pay tax. You can’t get a refund of any excess not used.

You can go to form 575 below. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can ask HMRC to post one to you.

If you're making a claim for repayment of tax on a form R40 Tax Repayment you can also request form 575 by ticking the appropriate box.

Electing to share or transfer your Married Couple’s Allowance before the start of the tax yearEdit

You can also decide to share the minimum Married Couple’s Allowance between you or, if you both agree, you can elect to transfer the whole of the minimum Married Couple’s Allowance to your spouse or civil partner (£2,800 for 2011-12). In this case you'll need to complete form 18 Transferring the Married Couple’s Allowance (available from your Tax Office or below) before the start of the tax year.

Married Couple’s Allowance for the tax year 2008-09Edit

Follow the link below to read about Married Couple’s Allowance rates for the tax year 2008-09.

Find out about Married Couple’s Allowance rates for 2008-09

Tax allowances and giving to charityEdit

If you pay tax and give money to a UK charity using Gift Aid, it's important to let HMRC know as this has the effect of reducing your income when they calculate your age-related allowances. Find out more by reading the HMRC guide on Gift Aid.

Tax relief when giving to charity through Gift Aid

Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.

Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Perfect FamilyEdit

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 22nd 2007Edit

Is the family you grew up in different from the ones that exist today? Is your family different from the ones you see on television? The answer is probably yes to both of these questions because so much has changed in the American family and so much was always myth about the way family was portrayed vs. the way it really is.

The Myth:

We hear a lot about the influence that violence has on everyone who watches television and movies. What is often neglected is the impact of other messages on the beliefs and attitudes of viewers of all ages. Specifically, I am thinking of the portrait of family life that is communicated to people of all ages who view these programs and movies. An example is the very old television program from the 1950's called Father Knows Best. Another program from that era was Leave It to Beaver.

These were two benign and optimistic programs whose episodes demonstrated the warm, humorous, and well functioning side of family life. Despite some difficult situations that the children got into, the wise and all knowing parents and adults resolved issues in ways that best showed the power of moral thinking and good, religious, American values. At the end of each episode problems were resolved and everyone was happy. Of course, Father "Knew" best, followed by mother and then all of the other members of the community. This was all very heart warming but, was it realistic?

I have known many people who watched, and were influenced by, these programs. Some of these people were friends and family members. Later, after I was a therapist, some of the individuals who reported being influenced by these programs were patients, either in individual or family and marital therapy. Almost all of them expressed distress that their past and present family experiences did not even remotely resemble what they had seen.

Even if attitudes about family life were not influenced by the media, there are many social mores, values, and myths about what healthy family life comprises.

Some of the myths are as follows:

1. Healthy families are made up of parents who do not quarrel.

2. Siblings in healthy families are always cooperative with their parents and willing to help one another.

3. Healthy families are harmonious and without conflict.

4. Parents have total control over their children, including where they go and what they do.

5. In a healthy family, the father goes to work and the mother remains at home to raise the children.

6. Everyone lives in nuclear families. A nuclear family is made up of father, mother, and children.

Many of the myths about the nuclear family were the result of Post World War II American life. The perfect nuclear family was expected to live in the suburbs, in homes with neatly kept lawns and lovely neighbors. The very funny and entertaining Dick Van Dyke Show was an example of this paradigm of family life. On the Dick Van Dyke Show the father worked in Manhattan while the wife and mother, played by Mary Tyler Moore, was at home happily tending to the chores of raising her child, shopping, cooking, and keeping the house. Even Lucy of the comedy I Love Lucy fit this same paradigm. Ricky, the husband and professional entertainer, worked and was a responsible member of society, while Lucy was a scattered brained red-headed wife who was always getting into trouble. Ultimately Lucy and Ricky, who began their married life living in Manhattan, moved out of the City to the inevitable suburbs.

While all of these programs were fun and entertaining, they were totally inaccurate about what family life is really like.

Now, let’s look at the facts surrounding some of the myths mentioned above:

1. Even couples who are happily married report that they quarrel. Marriage is difficult, bringing with it a period of adjustment soon after marriage, and continued work as the couple’s circumstances change. The problem is not that parents argue but how they argue. Those couples who argue and find solutions to their problems move on with their family lives.

2. Family studies and surveys show that most siblings grow up arguing with one another. As long as parents do not get involved and allow the youngsters to work it out themselves resolutions are found. Of course, it is sometimes necessary for parents to step in if the argument is getting loud and out of control. In fact, several studies show that siblings who argued while growing up become friends as adults.

3. It would be difficult to define what is meant by a happy family. Life brings with it constant change and the need to adjust to changing circumstances. Even changes that represent great success for the family are stressful for members to adapt to. The fact is that elderly family members die, many families experience economic problems, and illness, accidents, and tragedy have a way of interrupting all families.

4. Not only do parents not have total control over their children but it is necessary for them to prepare children for greater independence and autonomy as they grow. Once children become adolescents, they place distance between themselves and their families by starting to date the opposite sex, socialize with peers, spend time in sports competitions, and prepare for the final moving away by thinking about college, the military, or work. In addition, with most parents working, there is often no way to completely monitor where their children are after school.

5. In point of fact, the history of the family shows that mothers worked long before the industrial revolution. While fathers farmed the land, women worked at home in cottage industries, sewing clothing for sale, usually regulated by contractors. Even before the age of cottage industries, women collected a lot of food for the winter and did the preservation and storing of food stuffs for the entire family.

6. The nuclear family has had a brief history as will be seen next in this essay. If anything, most people lived in extended families made up of many generations such as grandparents and great grandparents in addition to aunts and uncles.

7. Today, many people are either delaying marriage or are electing not to marry at all.

Family Reality Today:

1. There are single parent families that are headed by a mother or father and this is usually the result of divorce, death or:

2. Because standards of sexual behavior have changed so much over the years, there are now many single parent families that are the result of women deciding to have children outside of marriage.

3. Something that would never have been imagined years ago is the fact that there are gay families. These are families in which gay couples decide to have children in one of two ways: If there are two women, one of them may decide to be artificially inseminated with donated sperm so that the baby will be raised by two mothers. The other way for gay couples to have children is to adopt and raise them together.

4. There are blended families that are the result of two divorced people deciding to marry and raise their sets of children together.

5. Yes, there are nuclear and extended families today and it would be a mistake to believe that they have disappeared.

However, with a more than fifty percent rate of divorce, the nature and type of family life has undergone enormous change.

So, if you have complaints about the way you were raised, try not to feel too bad. There are no ideal families, conflict is an inevitable part of family life, and large numbers of children know what it is like to grow up without seeing one of their parents, especially their fathers.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that if you are having marriage problems or difficulties with the behavior of the children, you are not alone. Partly, it is the job of children to test the limits with their parents as they learn about themselves and begin to assert their individuality with opinions and tastes that parents may not like.

Of course, if either marriage problems or difficulties managing children are becoming too great, then it is time to seek professional help. This can come in the form of psychologists or social workers who specialize in marriage and family problems.

So, remember, there are no perfect families and there are no perfect marriages or relationships.

From The TimesEdit

April 14, 2010Edit

The single mother's manifestoEdit

David Cameron says the ‘nasty party’ that castigated people like me has changed. I’m not buying itEdit

J.K. RowlingEdit

I’ve never voted Tory before, but . . .” Those much parodied posters, with their photogenic subjects and their trite captions, remind me irresistibly of glossy greetings cards. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more general elections have in common with the birthdays of middle life. Both entail a lot of largely unwelcome fuss; both offer unrivalled opportunities for congratulation and spite, and you have seen so many go by that a lot of the excitement has worn off.

Nevertheless, they become more meaningful, more serious. Behind all the bombast and balloons there is the melancholy awareness of more time gone, the tally of ambitions achieved and of opportunities missed.

So here we are again, taking stock of where we are, and of where we would like to be, both as individuals and as a country. Personally, I keep having flashbacks to 1997, and not merely because of the most memorable election result in recent times. In January that year, I was a single parent with a four-year-old daughter, teaching part-time but living mainly on benefits, in a rented flat. Eleven months later, I was a published author who had secured a lucrative publishing deal in the US, and bought my first ever property: a three-bedroom house with a garden.

I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.

The new Labour landslide marked a cessation in government hostilities towards families like mine. The change in tone was very welcome, but substance is, of course, more important than style. Labour had great ambitions for eradicating child poverty and while it succeeded, initially, in reversing the downward trend that had continued uninterrupted under Tory rule, it has not reached its own targets. There remains much more to be done.

This is not to say that there have not been real innovations to help lone-parent families. First, childcare tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, which were a meaningful way of addressing the fact that the single biggest obstacle for lone parents returning to work was not innate slothfulness but the near-impossibility of affording adequate childcare.

Then came Sure Start centres, of which there are now more than 3,000 across the UK: service centres where families with children under 5 can receive integrated service and information. Unless you have previously grappled with the separate agencies involved in housing, education and childcare, you might not be able to appreciate what a great innovation these centres are. They link to Jobcentres, offering help to secure employment, and give advice on parenting, childcare, education, specialist services and even health. A National Audit Office memorandum published last January found that the overall effectiveness of 98 per cent of the childcare offered was judged to be “good or outstanding”.

So here we are, in 2010, with what promises to be another memorable election in the offing. Gingerbread (now amalgamated with the National Council for One Parent Families), keen to forestall the mud-slinging of the early Nineties, recently urged Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg to sign up to a campaign called Let’s Lose the Labels, which aims to fight negative stereotyping of lone parents. Here are just a few of the facts that sometimes get lost on the way to an easy story, or a glib stump speech: only 13 per cent of single parents are under 25 years old, the average age being 36. Fifty-two per cent live below the breadline and 26 per cent in “non-decent” housing. Single-parent families are more likely than couple families to have a member with a disability, which gives some idea of the strains that cause family break up. In spite of all the obstacles, 56.3 per cent of lone parents are in paid employment.

As there are 1.9 million single-parent votes up for grabs, it ought not to surprise anyone that all three leaders of the main political parties agreed to sign up to Gingerbread’s campaign. For David Cameron, however, this surely involves a difficult straddling act.

Yesterday’s Conservative manifesto makes it clear that the Tories aim for less governmental support for the needy, and more input from the “third sector”: charity. It also reiterates the flagship policy so proudly defended by David Cameron last weekend, that of “sticking up for marriage”. To this end, they promise a half-a-billion pound tax break for lower-income married couples, working out at £150 per annum.

I accept that my friends and I might be atypical. Maybe you know people who would legally bind themselves to another human being, for life, for an extra £150 a year? Perhaps you were contemplating leaving a loveless or abusive marriage, but underwent a change of heart on hearing about a possible £150 tax break? Anything is possible; but somehow, I doubt it. Even Mr Cameron seems to admit that he is offering nothing more than a token gesture when he tells us “it’s not the money, it’s the message”.

Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say “it’s not the money, it’s the message”. When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money. If Mr Cameron’s only practical advice to women living in poverty, the sole carers of their children, is “get married, and we’ll give you £150”, he reveals himself to be completely ignorant of their true situation.

How many prospective husbands did I ever meet, when I was the single mother of a baby, unable to work, stuck inside my flat, night after night, with barely enough money for life’s necessities? Should I have proposed to the youth who broke in through my kitchen window at 3am? Half a billion pounds, to send a message — would it not be more cost-effective, more personal, to send all the lower-income married people flowers?

Suggestions that Mr Cameron seems oblivious to how poor people actually live, think and behave seem to provoke accusations of class warfare. Let me therefore state, for the record, that I do not think it any more his fault that he spent his adolescence in the white tie and tails of Eton than that I spent the almost identical period in the ghastly brown-and-yellow stylings of Wyedean Comprehensive. I simply want to know that aspiring prime ministers have taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons, not only the sort that send messages with banknotes.

But wait, some will say. Given that you have long since left single parenthood for marriage and a nuclear family; given that you are now so far from a life dependent on benefits that Private Eye habitually refers to you as Rowlinginnit, why do you care? Surely, nowadays, you are a natural Tory voter?

No, I’m afraid not. The 2010 election campaign, more than any other, has underscored the continuing gulf between Tory values and my own. It is not only that the renewed marginalisation of the single, the divorced and the widowed brings back very bad memories. There has also been the revelation, after ten years of prevarication on the subject, that Lord Ashcroft, deputy chairman of the Conservatives, is non-domiciled for tax purposes.

Now, I never, ever, expected to find myself in a position where I could understand, from personal experience, the choices and temptations open to a man as rich as Lord Ashcroft. The fact remains that the first time I ever met my recently retired accountant, he put it to me point-blank: would I organise my money around my life, or my life around my money? If the latter, it was time to relocate to Ireland, Monaco, or possibly Belize.

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug.

Child poverty remains a shameful problem in this country, but it will never be solved by throwing millions of pounds of tax breaks at couples who have no children at all. David Cameron tells us that the Conservatives have changed, that they are no longer the “nasty party”, that he wants the UK to be “one of the most family-friendly nations in Europe”, but I, for one, am not buying it. He has repackaged a policy that made desperate lives worse when his party was last in power, and is trying to sell it as something new. I’ve never voted Tory before ... and they keep on reminding me why.

© J. K. Rowling, 2010