This week we have had two news reports – one an individual case and the other based on thorough research. The individual case shows a woman losing thousands of pounds in benefits as a result of getting married. She has now sunk into debt and is considering separating simply to get the benefits that will get her out of debt.
The detailed research is published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and shows how birth rates have risen amongst those groups to which Gordon Brown has given large increases in benefits since 1997. At last these issues are out in the mainstream. Until a couple of years ago it was just the IEA, Civitas, the Adam Smith Institute, the CPS, Politeia, Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Justice who were saying that, in welfare policy, incentives matter.
In her IEA study, Patricia Morgan showed how couples gained significant financial benefits if they lived apart, particularly if only one of them had a job. As a result we end up with large numbers of dislocations.
Households tend to have two adults working or no adults working – if one person in a workless household with two adults gets a job the incentive is to split (or pretend to split) the household or turn down the job. Children in poverty are increasingly to be found in two parent families (the very families that have taken decisions that should make them more able to support their children financially!) because the tax and welfare system is biased in favour of single parent families. The government pays benefits to 10% more children of lone parent families than exist in the country (yes, that’s as bizarre as it sounds – and this is despite the fact that some do not qualify for lone parent benefit at all).
Couples on higher incomes tend to marry before they have children (as they will be financially responsible for their children and thus wish to create a stable household) whilst there is a growing tendency for couples on lower incomes not to marry (because the financial penalties from doing so are so great – especially if only one of the adults has a job).
In the 1970s and 1980s, the state became the breadwinner for low-income families who did not make financial provision for their children. In the 1990s and 2000s, the state became the child carer too. It is time for a U-turn.