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The Centre for Social Justice warns that the Government’s child benefit plans are “another blow to marriage”

By Peter Hoskin
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With the Government’s “High Income Child Benefit charge” coming into effect on Monday, the past week has witnessed a flurry of criticism of the policy. My former colleague Jonathan Jones wrote a useful summary of those criticisms yesterday, which ticked off things like high marginal tax rates and the extra complexity that is being wired into the benefits system.

But there’s another criticism, and one that the Centre for Social Justice is highlighting today: the effect that the Child Benefit changes could have on marriage. Christian Guy, the managing director of the CSJ, puts it thus:

“The new rules will mean that married couples where one earns over £50,000 pa will be unable to avoid losing some or all of their child benefit. Meanwhile similar couples who are cohabiting will face unenviable choices: a severe financial penalty if they marry or breaking the law if they deny their relationship status.

This creates a potential ‘marriage penalty’, despite evidence showing how crucial marriage is to stable families and children. Research illustrates that break-up rates are three times higher for couples who cohabit compared with those who marry.”

It all comes down to keeping secrets from the taxman. As Christian Guy suggests, unmarried couples (where one partner earns over £50,000, etc., etc.) have one obvious way to avoid being stung by the Child Benefit policy: they don’t admit to being a couple. And if they don’t want to admit to being a couple, then they may not want to get married. Money could, at least theoretically, trump wedding bells.

In truth, it’s hard to know how many of the estimated 1.2 million families affected by the Child Benefit policy will choose that route. Perhaps it will only be a handful, or even none. But that will do little to salve the concerns of those Tories who already feel the Government isn’t doing enough to promote marriage in the tax system. No doubt, there will now be even more pressure on George Osborne to produce a tonic for them in the next Budget.

> READ: Paul's post from yesterday, on why George Osborne should say that the child benefit restriction is temporary


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