The UK is running out of children. Would tax incentives help?
On July 3, a firestorm erupted in the UK. And it wasn’t about Boris Johnson.
This particular chattering class kerfuffle was ignited by one of the world’s pre-eminent demographers. Dr Paul Morland’s curriculum vitae includes posts at St Antony’s College and Birkbeck College, University of London, plus books and papers on the subject. He is a veritable “go to” guy on demography.
The firestorm? The latest England and Wales census has just been released. Dr Morland penned an op-ed about it that appeared in the July 3 Sunday Times headlined “Should We Tax the Childless?”
Talk about clickbait. The very idea of a tax on the childless immediately aroused the pique of the childless. Understandably. Nobody wants new taxes. The American Revolution began as a tax revolt. Some of us have been around long enough to remember President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) say, “Read my lips. No new taxes!” -- a pledge on which he famously and shamelessly reneged.
Undaunted, Dr Morland floated “taxing the childless” along with several other ideas. Why? Because “we are approaching a population emergency, and if well-informed people cannot discuss these matters, the field is left to cranks and fanatics.” Good point. Dr Morland is no crank, and cranks and fanatics usually don’t make the pages of the Sunday Times -- unless they are also journalists, academics or politicians.
Since his op-ed appeared, the pro-natalist Dr Morland has been in the crosshairs of some mightily disgruntled folks. The essay begins innocently enough:
[The census] shows a population that is bigger than ever, at 59.6 million. Yet that big number in fact represents a slowing-down: the population grew by 7.8 per cent between 2001 and 2011, but the growth dropped to 6.3 per cent between 2011 and 2021.
[T]he annual number of births in England and Wales (640,000 in 2019 == the last year unaffected by Covid) is not much higher than the number of deaths (531,000 in 2019). The number of under-fives in England and Wales fell by 7.6 per cent between 2011 and 2021 to 3.2 million. [Emphasis added]
Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same problem. The UK is running out of children.
Demographers are usually busy compiling, analysing and reporting population data, which is all well and good. But Dr Morland is also a pundit, frequently appearing in the popular press. Pundits are predisposed to point out problems; Dr Morland has the gumption and gall to propose solutions. He laments the lack of public discussion on the UK’s “population emergency” and wants to change that. Given all the angst, here is exactly what he said:
As my starting point for the national debate we urgently need, here are a few ideas to boost the birth rate, all achievable at very little cost to the nation’s stretched finances:
- Create a “pro-natal” culture, including a national day to celebrate parenthood, and a telegram from the Queen whenever a family has a third child. Public figures can lead the way with words and actions (the prime minister [Johnson], with his seven known offspring, has a track record in this regard).
- Sacrifice a portion of the green belt around London and other cities to free up additional space for more, cheaper family homes. Some of the value unlocked by this can be passed on to local or national government.
- Retarget child benefit to incentivise families to have children. Tax credits are more effective than a flat rate per child. If this is “regressive” -- redistributing money to the better-off -- counteract it elsewhere in the system.
- Introduce a “negative child benefit” tax for those who do not have offspring. This may seem unfair on those who can’t or won’t have children, but it recognises that we all rely on there being a next generation and that everyone should contribute to the cost of creating that generation. Use the funds to fix the UK’s broken, expensive early-years care system.
- Educate people that getting pregnant becomes more difficult with age -- as Dorothy Byrne, the master of the all-female Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, suggested last year, to much outrage. Some see subsidised IVF provision as a technological solution -- as China is attempting -- but, as with natural conception, its success becomes significantly less likely as the age of a woman advances.
Kudos to Dr Morland for kick-starting that national debate. While politicians focus on the next election rather than the next generation, Dr Morland realises an unfolding crisis is afoot, has the courage to publicly raise the issue and offers comprehensive solutions. Agree with him or not, he is a public-spirited citizen-scholar.
Yet no good deed goes unpunished. The ink was hardly dry on Dr Morland’s piece when a veritable geyser of vitriol spewed from the holier-than-thou set.
The Guardian’s Zoe Williams homed in on Dr Morland’s suggestion that mass immigration is not the solution, where he says the UK should “grow our own… from births within our racially and ethnically diverse country rather than immigration.”
Ms Williams: “[O]ne can only observe very quietly how similar some of this language sounds to the great replacement theory of neo-fascists.” She went on to say “Morland’s ideas ranged from the asinine to the inhumane.”
In a Stylist piece headlined “Paul Morland’s viral Sunday Times piece shows it’s easier to blame women than to make meaningful change,” Kat Brown writes that Dr Morland has “…managed the impressive feat of insulting childless people, parents, childfree people, the chronically ill, the LGBTQ+ community, people considering moving to the UK and Hallmark cards.”
Grazia’s Polly Dunbar whined that “In a society which still tells us that the ‘right’ way to live involves marriage and children, taxing us for not doing these things is akin to stamping ‘failure’ across our foreheads.”
But Conservative Woman’s Laura Perrins didn’t mince words either:
… Christian societies do not create a hostile environment for families. Authentic conservative governments do not create economic conditions that punish traditional families, something this Tory regime of anti-family terror has presided over for the last 12 years. Normal societies don’t need to be reminded that you need children to have a future.
Dr Morland’s essay challenges UK elites to get their heads out of the sand and do something about the birth dearth. Excellent. That is exactly what is needed. For too long chatterers and their deep state collaborators have lived quite well while society goes to heck in a handbasket. It is high time to upend status quo thinking. Waning Global North countries need to get in front of this crisis before it’s too late.
At the very least, Dr Morland’s piece is a shot across the bow of the politically correct set.
Regarding the tax? Whatever government subsidises, grows. Whatever government taxes, shrinks. Governments of every stripe have no problem weaponising the power to tax. We certainly hope it never comes to that. However, in times of crisis, governments do things that are unthinkable otherwise. Maybe when it becomes crystal clear to all but the hopelessly woke that we’re dying out, radical measures will be taken.
Dr Morland’s first bullet point is critical: “Create a ‘pro-natal’ culture.” Agreed. But as long as globalist “national” governments push open-borders immigration that depresses wages, and further ruin their economies subsidising contrived globalist wars, the financial strangulation of families will continue. As long as trash “entertainment” promoting violence, promiscuity and amorality reigns supreme, good luck with a pro-family, pro-natalist culture.
Space does not allow a more thorough discussion of Dr Morland’s ideas. But that “starting point for the national debate we urgently need” is essential. Dr Morland provides that starting point. In doing so he renders a valuable public service, which is more than can be said for embittered critics piling on to attack yet another man with the temerity to speak his mind. Thank you, Dr Morland.
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