Could there be a tax on childless couples? Expert’s comments explained as Census reveals drop in child births

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University of Oxford academic Dr Paul Morland has come under fire for an article on how to boost the population after the UK Census 2021 showed growth slowed down

A demographics expert from the University of Oxford has come under fire for suggesting couples should pay extra taxes if they are childless.

Dr Paul Morland wrote in an op-ed for newspaper The Sunday Times that Brits should be incentivised to have more children to address a slowdown in UK population growth.

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It comes after UK Census 2021 figures showed the rate of growth fell over the last decade when compared to the noughties.

So what exactly did Dr Morland suggest - and what has the backlash been to his comments?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Academic Dr Paul Morland suggested people needed to be incentivised to have kids (image: Adobe)Academic Dr Paul Morland suggested people needed to be incentivised to have kids (image: Adobe)
Academic Dr Paul Morland suggested people needed to be incentivised to have kids (image: Adobe) | Adobe

Who is Dr Paul Morland?

Dr Paul Morland is a demographics expert who is currently a senior member of staff at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford.

He has written three books:

  • ‘Demographic Engineering: Population Strategies and Ethnic Conflict’ - an analysis of the links between demography and conflict.
  • ‘The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World’  - a look at the last two hundred years from a demographic perspective.
  • ‘Tomorrow’s People’ - an examination of existing and future population trends.

The latter work, his most recent, is the subject Dr Morland was writing about for The Sunday Times.

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As well as being an academic, he has also worked as a business consultant for fund managers and insurance firms.

What did Dr Paul Morland say?

Dr Paul Morland has been at the eye of a storm centred on comments he has made about the UK population.

In a piece written for The Sunday Times, he argues that the UK needs to act or face a “population winter”, where the labour shortages the UK’s currently seeing become more widespread and increasingly common.

This theory was borne out of UK Census 2021 figures, which showed “a slowing-down” in population growth from 7.8% between 2001 and 2011, to 6.3% between 2011 and 2021.

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Population growth has slowed down - something which could lead to a ‘population winter’ Dr Moreland argues (image: Adobe)Population growth has slowed down - something which could lead to a ‘population winter’ Dr Moreland argues (image: Adobe)
Population growth has slowed down - something which could lead to a ‘population winter’ Dr Moreland argues (image: Adobe) | Adobe

“We are approaching a population emergency, and if well-informed people cannot discuss these matters, the field is left to cranks and fanatics,” he writes.

Dr Morland calls for “a national demographic strategy” in his op-ed, one prong of which would focus on “incentivising families to have more children and to have them when they are younger”.

He suggests several policies to achieve this objective, including:

  1. The creation of a “pro-natal culture” that would include the introduction of “a national day to celebrate parenthood,” as well as a telegram from the Queen “whenever a family has a third child”.
  2. A retargeting of child benefits to “incentivise families to have children”. Dr Morland says tax credits are “more effective than a flat rate per child”.
  3. An education program which informs people that “getting pregnant becomes more difficult with age”.
  4. The introduction of “a ‘negative child benefit’ tax” for childless couples.

It’s the latter of these policy ideas that has attracted the biggest backlash.

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Dr Morland defends it in the piece by arguing: “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.”

He says the funds generated from the tax would be used to revamp the UK’s “broken” and “expensive” early-years care system.

There is no suggestion the government is considering these policy ideas.

People have reacted angrily to Dr Paul Morland’s suggestion of a childless tax (image: Adobe)People have reacted angrily to Dr Paul Morland’s suggestion of a childless tax (image: Adobe)
People have reacted angrily to Dr Paul Morland’s suggestion of a childless tax (image: Adobe) | Adobe

What has been the reaction to ‘childless tax’ comments?

With The Sunday Times headlining the piece ‘Should we tax the childless?’ the column was quite possibly intended to stoke a reaction.

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And if that was the aim, the editors at the newspaper can pat themselves on the back.

Social media and website message boards have lit up with condemnation for the piece.

On Twitter, political party the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) wrote: “Can’t believe this needs to be said but: 1) DON’T tax women for exercising their bodily autonomy. 2) Know what would help women who want children? Universal free childcare.

“There’s a radical, long-term idea that doesn’t trample over women’s rights.”

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WEP’s leader and co-founder Sophie Walker said: “Lofty think pieces so much easier than talking to the childless. Or listening to them. Or listening to women who have children and are sinking fast.

“Or doing any kind of social analysis that’s not based primarily on what a small circle of men believe is the universal experience.”

Nimco Ali, who is the independent government adviser on tackling violence against women and girls, Tweeted: “Childless women are already taxed and we already get f all for the tax we pay. So whoever mooted that policy idea in the Times today needs to f right off.”

Meanwhile, a Mumsnet discussion of the idea saw one user post: “This isn’t incentivising having children, it’s punishing those who don’t. Surely two different things?

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“They could make having children far more desirable by improving parental leave and pay or making childcare more affordable. Simple.”

Another disagreed with the suggestions made by Dr Morland but suggested his piece raised an important issue.

“That article is extreme and I don’t agree with the concept but there needs to be an acknowledgement of the importance of having children and a next generation,” the user wrote.

“Having children seems to be viewed as a selfish act...because of over-population and climate change but then what happens when there aren’t enough young people to work and pay taxes? Society collapses!

“I do think nurturing the future generations should have more importance in the narrative of society.”

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