David Cameron has said he will introduce a tax break for people in civil partnerships if the Conservative Party win the general election. But the policy will only benefit gay couples where one partner earns less than £6,600 per year.
The measure, which would save four million married couples and civil partners £150 per year would cost the country £550m.
The policy would apply to basic rate tax payers who earn under £44,000 where one person does not use their full tax-free income allowance.
One member of an eligible couple will be able to transfer £750 of their tax free personal allowance to their partner in order to reduce their partner’s income tax bill. This will be limited to basic rate taxpayers and is therefore worth up to £150 a year per couple at the 20% rate of tax.
The Conservative party have today been keen to point out that the measure benefits gay couples in a civil partnership as well as straight married couples. Shadow chancellor George Osborne told The Times: “It’s not just for married people, it’s also for gay people who are in a civil partnership.
“I don’t preach about people’s lives, and many marriages fail, but I think we know now from years of evidence that a society where more people are married is a stronger society.”
However, it is actually a legal requirement that any tax measure that applies to married couples applies equally to gay couples as part of the Civil Partnership Act.
In reality, the measure may not be of as much benefit to gay couples, as traditionally both parties in a civil partnership tend to work full time, and therefore would have used up their full tax-free income allowance. This is partly because the number of lesbian and gay couples bringing up children is lower than in the straight community.
However, as more and more lesbian and gay couples adopt or have children through IVF or surrogacy, the impact of the Conservative party proposal will be greater.
Until 1999, a similar measure was abolished by the Labour Government but was worth £47 a year more than the Conservative proposal.
For Labour, Schools Secretary Ed Balls told the BBC: “It’s gesture politics which is deeply, deeply unfair. It’s targeted at some lower income families but only a lower income family where you can afford to have one parent who stays at home full-time.” Charity Ginger Bread, said that 40% of those in poverty were single parents who wouldn’t benefit from this measure.
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: “It does absolutely nothing to provide an incentive to marriage and it sends all the wrong signals to very large numbers of other people who are excluded from it.”