Institute of Economic Affairs, 1995.
Patricia Morgan, an English sociologist, here examines the social condition of the family in Britain and the US. She contends that government policy has directly and indirectly contributed to the growth of the mother/child household. While looking to the needs of sole parent families, governments have overlooked or ignored the needs of intact families.
Morgan states that the arrival of feminist advisers into governments has radically changed the way government benefits are distributed. The burden of taxation has increasingly been shifted onto married parents to the benefit of the single and the childless. As a result, lone parents can end up with higher final incomes from any given wage than two-parent families. Also, more mothers are tempted into the workplace, and more children are pushed into day care, in order for traditional families to stay afloat economically,
As an example, take the Child Care Allowance introduced in Britain in October 1994. This Allowance enables a lone parent with two small children to work for 20 hours a week at £4 an hour, ending up with a net income of £164 after rent and tax. However, a married father of two small children working for 40 hours at the same hourly rate would take home £131.
Other examples could be mentioned. As the tax burden has moved downwards, those with dependent children have been the hardest hit. For example, a family in Britain in 1993 with two young children needed 57 per cent more than a childless couple to maintain the same living standard. Indeed, says Morgan, “since the 1970s scarcely a year has gone by without a family exemption, benefit or service being removed or reduced.”
All this is to say that government policy tends to be responsible for penalising marriage and the traditional family while rewarding non-traditional family units. “This all reflects the abandonment of the principle of ability to pay in taxation, which was traditionally related to both the level of income and the number of people dependent upon it.”
Morgan quotes the Australian author Alan Tapper: “Society, though it does have a role in supporting all families, has no obligation to subsidise family breakdown.”
This subsidy of family breakdown is simply the end result of the modern welfare state mentality which views society in terms of isolated individuals, not as family units. Says Morgan, “What is being created is the new ‘family wage’, tailored for lone parents, in place of the old system of tax exemptions and allowances which helped to maintain and rear children in the two-parent family.”
This change can be seen in many ways. In England in 1950, a married father of two children had to earn 101 per cent of average manual earnings before he started to pay tax. Today the same man pays tax at 35 per cent of the manual wage.
In America the typical family (mother, father, two children) paid federal taxes equal to 2 per cent of its income in 1948. Today the equivalent family pays 24 per cent on its income to Washington, and another 8 to 10 per cent in state and local taxes. And exemptions granted for children have been eaten away by inflation. In the US that exemption amounted to about 42 per cent of an average family’s income in 1948. Today it is worth about 12 per cent.
Government policy, in other words, is making it more and more difficult to raise a family. Most tax breaks and concessions go to sole parents, to the unmarried, to singles. The big losers are married couples with children. The results are just what the feminists have hoped for: more and more mothers are forced into the paid workplace, and more and more children are put into day care.
Morgan says this trend must stop: “Simply on the basis of equity, the state should treat married parents as well as it treats divorced and single parents. This requires the elimination of all payments and services to broken families that are not made to intact families, with one benefit standard for all children, whether inside or outside the means-tested system, and personal and dependent tax exemptions. This will enhance family security and reduce welfare dependency.”
A fuller exposition of this proposal would have been of use, but sufficient is the job Morgan has done of highlighting the anti-family public policy of America and Britain.
Of the growing number of books highlighting the dangers of marriage-less societies and father-less families, this is one of the best. And as an examination of the very destructive impact the modern welfare state has on the family, this book is among the most thorough and well-researched.