Marriage and the welfare state


There is a rather interesting debate between Peter Hoskin and Fraser Nelson over at the Coffee House blog on the value of Conservative Party plans to use the tax system to encourage the institution of marriage. Following the lead of the Centre for Social Justice, there are plans afoot to encourage marriage via a £20-a-week tax break for married couples.

The exchange can be viewed, here, here and here. With the original post inspired by an excellent article by Philip Collins in The Times. Central to the debate is the efficacy and morality of giving tax breaks to encourage marriage. Peter Hoskin and Philip Collins win the efficacy side of the argument. £20 per week really won’t make much of a difference. This in turn makes Fraser Nelson’s defence of the morality of the scheme mostly redundant. Yet without other reforms the poorest are nevertheless incentivised to stay unmarried or pretend to be apart. However, rather than introduce more incentives to mitigate the unintended consequences of current policies, the Conservatives need to deal with the original government interventions.

This of course involves radical welfare reform as well cutting tax for the poorest. Alongside a flat tax, we at the Adam Smith Institute have long argued for raising the personal allowance to £12,000. With only basic welfare and a fair tax system the effects of welfarism that rightly concern Fraser Nelson and the Centre for Social Justice will be dramatically reduced, without the need to rely upon the state to try (and fail) to correct its own mistakes.