As Sainsbury has compellingly argued, ‘the tax system is a crucial nexus of the state, the family, and the market’. The intent of this chapter is to consider the current tax credit system for families, at the intersection of all of these factors. The impact of such initiatives on family decision making, in particular, will be addressed. Through incentives provided via the tax system, different types of families may be ‘privileged’, some members encouraged to enter the labour market or to leave it, and this chapter will investigate the extent to which gendered tax incentives influence those choices and thus have an impact upon the division of family labour and gender relations within the home. This chapter will confront the fact that tax incentives historically have encouraged fathers to work outside of the home and mothers to work inside of it, and, now, may be seeking to redress this balance. Put simply, this chapter will seek to demonstrate that tax plays a significant role in fashioning the subject of family law.
It is almost a truism that ‘[t]he tension between official legal forms and functional families has created issues for centuries’. Through the study of tax credits, this chapter will reveal the government’s latest vision for the ideal family. Tax, in particular, plays a crucial role in the government’s vision.
On the question of this issue’s importance, the Women’s Budget Group have suggested that
[t]he government is already encouraging the development of family friendly employment practices. Employer contributions to their employees’ childcare costs should be on both trade union and employers’ bargaining agendas. A more supportive tax regime would encourage both parties to take the issue more seriously.
Perhaps the association of child care and family budget issues with tax, as opposed to benefits, takes the issue into the mainstream of cultural debate. This question will be considered, as will the thorny question of whether tax credits are
truly ‘credits’ at all. Further, in addition to family decision making, tax credits have an impact upon the range of choice that is available to women. They are presented as feminist initiatives. The extent to which tax credits live up to their promise will be considered. This ‘promise’ will be considered along the lines as suggested by Bennett, in that
[a] key question to be asked of any policy proposal from a gender perspective. . . is not only whether it will make men’s and women’s ‘choices’ in the present easier, but also whether it will help to transform the existing gender roles and relationships that currently structure, and constrain, those choices, to allow both sexes to fulfil their capabilities to the full.
Towards this end, whether tax credits assist mothers to ‘fulfil their capabilities to the full’ will be a recurrent, investigatory theme of this chapter. Most of all, this chapter will investigate the place of tax credits within a feminist vision of family law.