I wrote a piece today on Labour’s attempts to exploit the Tories’ failure to connect with women voters. The piece highlights the coalition’s failure to help low-paid women cope with childcare as a major issue for the working mother. But during my research, another issue was brought up by Tory women: David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance.
It may be the Tory leader’s totemic ‘family’ policy but it is exactly the sort of scheme that chimes well with his old-style grassroots but does little to endear the party to the plight of the working couples.
Under the scheme as it was outlined before the election, a married couple only benefits if one person stays at home since the policy is based on one member of the couple being able to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner to reduce the ‘family tax bill’. Eligible couples where the main earner has an annual income of between £7,300 and £42,000 will be £150 better off.
Some more forward-thinking Tories think this is sort of policy that makes Mr Cameron seem out of tune with the realities of millions of working families in Britain who no longer can afford a 1950s set-up in which mother tends to the children and father earns the dosh.
“This is just not a kite worth flying,” said one (married) female Tory MP. “And if they do want it, it should not be in the form of a transferable allowance. Single earner families tend to be either the very poor or the very rich. It’s the people in the middle that can’t afford to have one income.”
Andrew Cooper, Mr Cameron’s newish head of strategy, has spent the summer trying to analyse where the party is going wrong with women and in the coming weeks the party is going to set out its pitch to bring more women back to the fold.
This week, the party said it was still committed to rewarding marriage through the tax system but would not offer more detail on how this would be done – perhaps the Cameroons realise that the transferable tax allowance is not a flier for all the reasons outlined above. Maybe it will be one to kick into the long grass. After all those focus groups, Mr Cooper may well choose to steer away from policies that fail to nail it for modern women and focus on what really matters to them: burdensome childcare costs and rising household bills.