I was surprised to receive an invitation to a literary event this week that offered tickets for $20 for singles people and $35 for couples.
What could be the thinking here? Clearly there are no special economies of scale for couples as each person needs a seat whether coupled or not.
It cant be about discounts for groups otherwise it would have said a discount for parties of two or more, irrespective of relationship.
Is it that couples are more worthy of assistance than single people because they are poorer? Or is there is something inherently desirable about being coupled that needs a subsidy?
The issue is not merely trivial but is part of a deep ambivalence in NZ society to how marriage or relationships in the nature of marriage should be treated.
One place we are clear and logical is the tax system. Tax is fully neutral to relationship status. No economies of scale from being married are assumed. Being married doesn’t suddenly give you a greater capacity to pay tax. You are taxed as an individual. The state does not give you any special tax dispensation either as might have occurred in times gone by where a woman was seen as a dependent of the male earner who then got a tax rebate for her.
Marriage neutrality is a great thing that makes the NZ tax system a lot simpler than in some other countries. Can you imagine a government believing that married people enjoy economies of scale and should therefore pay more tax? This would mean having to pay more tax if your flatmate became a defacto partner? Who would decide when you have gone from single sharing to defacto? The very caring IRD?
Would an outsider have to make a declaration about your relationship status is before you can start to earn and pay tax?
Would your nosey neighbour or unloving ‘friend’ be encouraged on the IRD website to dob you in? Would IRD helpfully provide check list of details they require from the informant including:
- the full name of their partner and any other names they’re known by
- their partner’s age and date of birth
- their partner’s address
- whether their partner works and who employs them
- why [the informant] thinks that they’re a couple
- how long they’ve been in a relationship (taken from Winz website)
What would be the penalties if you have not declared a relationship or a change in relationship? What kind of legal aid would you get to defend a charge of relationship tax fraud?
Might you be sent to jail? Is there a big calculator in the sky that will work out how much you have saved by hiding your ‘defactoness’ over many years and then extract weekly reparations from you when you come out of jail or community service or home detention maybe until you die?
But that is exactly happens in the welfare system. Time for New Zealand to wake up to 21st century relationship realities and stop this punitive nonsense. Relationship status should have no place in setting benefit rates or in determining how much can be earned before benefits reduce. Nor should it be the basis of prosecutions and possible incarceration.