Even Bigger Tax Breaks For Married Couples If Tories Win Election Says Cameron

Chancellor George Osborne will announce in his Autumn Statement this Thursday (5th December) a proposal to give married couples a tax cut worth as much as £150 a year. And David Cameron has hinted that, if the Tories win the next election, there may be even bigger tax breaks in the pipeline for those who have gone down the aisle.

Tax Breaks graphics under a magnifying glass

The Lib Dems are against the move which will cost as much as £700 million on the grounds that it penalises single parents, widows and cohabiting couples.

David Cameron said: “We will be making this change to back marriage in the tax system. It’s a change I strongly support. It’s very similar to what we set out in our manifesto. It’s something I have long wanted to do so I am pleased we will be achieving it. I believe in marriage. I believe marriage should be recognised in the tax system. I see this as yes, a start of something I would like to extend further”.

Under the new proposals, one member of a married couple or civil partnership will be allowed to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner. This would be worth about £150 per year to basic rate taxpayers.

This proposal fails, needless to say, to curry any favour with “Don’t Judge My Family”, the campaign against the marriage tax allowance who do not believe that the Government should be spending public money promoting what they see as their “ideal fantasy 1950s family’ and have produced a report detailing what they see as more practical options for the £700m this proposal will cost the Government.

They suggest ideas such as increased access to relationship counselling, cancelling proposed cuts to benefits for widowed parents or scrapping the Bedroom Tax which, they say, is causing stress and misery for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families but is predicted to save only £470m a year.

Whatever your personal views about marriage, in my view anything which helps to shore up the family unit should be seriously considered – but in a way that does not penalise those who do not see marriage as relevant to them.

Perhaps instead of relationship counselling, the Government should consider parenting classes because, irrespective of how we choose to declare our commitment to our partners, it is surely good parenting which helps a family unit to bond, whether or not the marriage bonds have been broken or indeed existed in the first place.

Fathers Will Be Able To Share Parental Leave from April 2015

Another day, another ‘sound bite’ policy from the Government – this time we hear that, from April 2015 fathers will be entitled to shared parental leave. A couple will need to tell their employers how they plan to share their leave eight weeks before it starts. They will then have the right to change their proposals twice during the year long leave.

Bosses will have to agree any proposed schedule of time off and will be able to insist that it is confined to a continuous block. Dads to be will also have the right to unpaid leave to attend up to two antenatal appointments.

Now, leaving aside the fact that, at least in my experience, male and female employees are often not treated equally when it comes to management’s attitude toward their taking time off, and the fact that small business owners must have their heads in their hands, I’m not sure whether in an economic climate still as precarious as ours, this policy is tenable.

Many businesses may pay lip service to ‘Family Friendly‘ policies, however, when it comes to career progression and security, one suspects that those employees who exercise their new rights may find their rise through the ranks decidedly impeded.

For examples, many large companies are currently engaged in actively buying goods and services to coincide with the end of their budget year. Many small companies are competing by submitting proofs of concept and tender documents (usually followed by a sales presentation). Employees of either sex will not find much favour if they are not there to support their team members during key prospective sales periods. Taking time off for a scan when there is a tender presentation in the offing is likely to dent your popularity with staff and management. And here’s where employer / employee relations are likely to suffer – note that the boss must approve the proposed schedule of absence.

Heaven knows it’s tough enough for women who take the full year of Maternity Leave (six months’ paid, six months’ unpaid) who return to work. Return after six months and you can have your job back. Return after a year and you are entitled to return to your job unless there is some reason why it is not reasonably practicable for the employer to take you back in your original job in which case you are entitled to be offered suitable alternative work on similar terms and conditions. (Source: Equality & Human Rights Commission)

And in most of the law firms I worked for, you could forget it if you thought you were going to return to a part time job. Part time was practically a dirty word and I have worked for firms who would ensure that a part time workload was equal to a full time one shoehorned into reduced hours!

Actually though I think that focusing on getting businesses to increase the number and calibre of part time roles would be of much greater benefit to working mothers and those mothers who find returning to work after more than a year away from the workplace so difficult. And what about single mothers who have no partner to support them?

Let’s focus on decent part time work provision and, the elephant in the room that has been neatly side-stepped today, the cost of childcare in this country.

Because it’s not so much our parental leave we’d like our partners to share, is it?  It’s when our children enter education that we could do with more support.

Fuller Figured Mannequins – Why Do I Feel Uneasy?

High Street retailer Debenhams is planning to introduce size 16 mannequins to its 170 UK stores. They will be displayed alongside the traditional size 10 mannequin.

British Equalities Minister Jo Swinson with Debenham’s new size 16 mannequins, Oct 2013

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Now I know I should feel that this is a great step forward in terms of retailers accepting that the average British woman tends more towards size 16 than she does towards size 8 (according to various nebulous surveys). I know that I should probably be applauding any attempt to help women love and appreciate the size they are.

But this move makes me feel vaguely uneasy. I’m more concerned that we are daily becoming more accepting of being overweight and increasing mannequin size is a tacit admission that the dial on the scales is moving ever-upwards.

And the real motive behind the increase in mannequin size is, in my mind, simply to sell more dresses without irritating the hell out of women who are fed up of never finding a size above a 12 on the rack.

Will other stores follow Debenhams lead? For this to work, merchandising and stocking will have to reflect the change. More larger sizes will need to be stocked. Is there anything more frustrating than having to cue at customer services to have an assistant ring round or checking online with other branches to see if your size is available, and you then having to wait a week or so for it to arrive?

And will this policy be rolled out unilaterally?  By that I mean will all stores operate in exactly the same way? For example, many stores seem to run a ridiculous system whereby keynote pieces are available in limited numbers only in prime store locations such as Marble Arch or Oxford Street – and certainly not here in Cardiff.

Are designers really going to be happy to put their name to clothes catering to larger sizes?

Certainly there is a plethora of new online / catalogue retailers challenging Evans plus size crown – Curvissa, and SimplyBe to name just two.  I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to use the term plus size now because it sounds derogatory.

We’ve got ourselves in a right mess regarding weight issues, haven’t we?  We can’t discuss being overweight (God forbid you should use the term obese) without giving offence or sounding as if we’re being ‘sizeist’ but I think we need to.  Size 16 certainly isn’t fat.  It’s more the subtle acceptance of our increasing size that gives me concern.

Lib Dems Propose Free School Dinners For Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 Children in England

At today’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, revealed his “showstopper policy” – that the Government is proposing to offer free school dinners to children in the Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 stages of education in England from September 2014 (i.e. 5-7 year olds).

Money is being provided for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to emulate the English scheme, however, it will be up to the respective devolved governments to decide whether to spend this on free lunches.


The £600m plan is estimated to save families an average of £437 per child and, in a Coalition trade-off, the Lib Dems have given the go-ahead for the Conservatives to announce a tax break for married couples which could be worth around £3 per week.

Free school dinners will go some way to make up for what some viewed as the penalising of middle income families by recent changes to Child Benefit.  According to The Independent, some 400,000 children already receive free meals but an estimated four in 10 children living in poverty do not currently qualify.

A Dedicated Follower of Glossy Magazines?

Now I love to read glossy magazines. From the tender age of 10 onwards I have devoured august publications such as Diana and Jackie, then Look Now, Woman, Woman’s Own and of course Cosmopolitan.

Glossy magazines - Cosmopolitan page
I remember the first ever edition of Company magazine with its radical glossy paper and in those days, the freebies were things like sachets of shampoo (remember Silvikrin Lemon & Lime?  You could have cleaned a car engine with it).

But these days I have a couple of gripes (you’ll get to know that this is a standard response to most things with me).

Things I hate about glossy magazines

The ludicrousness of the fashion spreads

One magazine this week has what appears to be a tribe of badly painted clowns cavorting in clothes only Timmy Mallett would think chic. Prints are in and the wackier the better.  Dots is the other big trend apparently. How the full stop has been reinvented to be this year’s ‘le dernier cri’ I’m not sure.

My question is:  who on earth wears this stuff?

When out and about I very often look to see how many women are modelling new trends, high fashion looks, fantasmagorical accessories (none under £1500) and I must need my eyes testing because I find not a one. They’re all in sensible, weatherproof clothing – a sprinkling of Superdry, an iota of Jack Wills but the rest of us appear to be welded into our casual wear.

The fashion trends are a nightmare of course for women in the 50+ age group. Unless you have the sass of Helen Mirren, adopting these trends unsupervised can make you look like you ran naked through a jumble sale covered in glue.

The infantilisation of editorial tone

Do you remember New Woman magazine? I used to love it until a new editorial team came in and decided its audience were apparently pre-pubescent school girls with too much pocket money and a dad with a trust fund. They duly went south. I find the breathlessness of the ‘OMG’,  ‘totes amaze’, ‘all emosh’ or, on last nights Celebrity Big Brother ‘having a discush’ language deeply irritating.

Are we so Twitter-bound (egg bound if you haven’t bothered to add a photo) that we can now only speak in sentences of 140 characters?  Worse, even THINK in sentences of 140 characters?

I find it incredible that print media must surely be aware that the popularity of social media has numbered their remaining days.  How many people read a newspaper or a printed magazine cover to cover?

The failure to cater for older readers

The UK also has a reportedly growing population of older people. Government sources say that one-in-six of the UK population is currently aged 65 and over, by 2050 one-in-four will be. The biggest future market for print sales is unlikely to be pre-pubescent girls and their Hello Kitty purses.

My solace in all this is Woman & Home Magazine and even (including to my surprise) Saga Magazine.  It’s so refreshing to read informed, ‘mature’ features and articles. I also like Red (despite it’s rather top heavy balance between advertising and copy) and Good Housekeeping.

My plea to the editors of the glossy magazines is simply this: please, please talk to us in the language of mature women.  Otherwise the dots I’m seeing before my eyes are not a fashion statement but a sign of raised blood pressure.