Families hit by average of £45 a week ‘couple penalty’

Families are facing ‘couple penalties’ of up to double what they incurred in 1997, according to a “startling” new report.

The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has released findings showing that the size of couple penalties have increased since 1997-98 with £45 a week being the average penalty incurred now.

The couple penalty is where, under the current tax and benefits system, couples are financially worse off if they remain a couple rather than split up.


Research by Christian charity CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) has consistently showed that the couple penalty is affecting UK families.

Chief executive of CARE Nola Leach said in response to the new IFS report: “The tax and more particularly the tax credit system is unfair and does not make for stable family life.

“The loss of income if they marry or cohabit is so large that many must be forced to remain lone parents.”


The IFS report looked at around 14,000 couples and found couple penalties are mostly caused through income support, jobseeker’s allowance, pension credit and child tax credit.

It noted that “the current tax and benefit system is inconsistent in its approach, paying out benefits and tax credits according to family circumstances but levying income tax according to an individual’s income”.

The authors did acknowledge the study failed to take into account the fact that people who live together share the cost of running a home.


In February a report by CARE showed that UK married couples with children pay a third more in tax than similar families in other developed countries.

The report also showed that the proportion of income taken in tax from middle income families has more than doubled in 40 years, despite having stayed the same for single people.

CARE’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Dan Boucher, said at the time: “The failure of the UK tax system to recognise family responsibilities makes it one of the most individualistic tax systems in the world.”


Also in February research by sociologist Geoff Dench found that many mothers are making a “lifestyle choice” to rely on state benefits instead of a male partner.

Mr Dench said: “Current policies structured around helping single mothers to become self-sufficient workers are misconceived.

“What most lone mothers need and many want (and may be waiting for) is a reliable partner-breadwinner, to settle down with. It would therefore make a lot more sense for policy to concentrate on dealing with male worklessness, in order to make men marriageable again.”

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