As discussed in a previous post some other commentators are picking up on the divorce fee story. I really must discuss Laurie Penny’s article though simply because it’s a perfect example of what I love about her work. She’s great at making me feel like I’ve slipped through an episode of sliders and into a Margaret Atwood-eseque dystopian alternate universe. Reading her work is often a truly surreal experience, as well as making excellent points that I wholeheartedly agree with such that:
“It is a simple cash-grab, dressed up in the language of moral manipulation. This intimate micromanagement of the personal relationships of the poor is a shameless about-face for a party that accused Labour of instituting a nanny state. The sheer hypocrisy of withdrawing welfare only to shrink the state small enough to fit into people’s bedrooms…” is then followed by:
“the cruelty of playing on women’s guilty fear of being bad parents in order to force them to swallow Thatcherite benefit cuts have nothing to do with child welfare.” where I have no idea what she’s going on about. Introducing a fee to divorce, i.e. trying to discourage divorce, with a “think of the children” rhetoric is certainly playing on people’s fears. But benefit cut, isn’t an increase in fees a tax increase? I thought that was what we were saying in the first sentence, that this is the state getting bigger!
The most surreal part of the argument is that this is all evidence of a mass conspiracy. I quote:
“None of this matters to the coalition. The real reason behind the government’s crusade to “recognise marriage in the tax system” is breathtakingly cynical: it’s about saving money. Persuading poor people to stay married eases the strain on housing stocks and provides a modesty slip for rising inequality; rich couples can still divorce as they please.”
I always find it difficult to believe in conspiracy theories. Conspiracies assume a minimum level of competence that I find is usually beyond the abilities of any government. To believe a 9/11 conspiracy I’ve got to accept that George W Bush orchestrated the destruction of two of America’s landmarks, killed thousands of people and all without anyone ever cottoning on. Same here, I’d have to assume that the coalition has some grand plan to solve the housing system involving the sophisticated use of the taxation system. I think the more likely explanation might be that “married people vote Tory a lot so lets give them some money by giving tax breaks.” Occam’s razor suggests the use of pork barrels to buy votes might just be closer to the truth of it all.
There’s also a great part of the article where a lack of causal evidence for broken marriages leading to less happy children suggests that this isn’t true. Well not only does a lack of evidence for something if no investigation has been made not suggest the reverse, it’s difficult to imagine how you would prove causality here. A randomised trial where we let some people divorce and not others? Think we might struggle with the ethics committee for that one! I’ve asked Laurie about this and shall enjoy seeing if she responds!
Check out some of her other articles. Where a decrease in housing benefits is described as the greatest attack to society in living memory. More than illegal wars, or killing innocent civilians, mass genocide or any of the other shit we’ve seen even in my lifetime. Let alone living memory when that includes the holocaust, Mao and Stalin’s purges.