Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Sunday Times’ rage-inducing viral masterclass ‘Should we tax the childless?’ is that this proposition is among the paper’s least dystopian suggestions as to how to tackle the UK’s declining birth rate. Alternative headlines – shocking but also accurate – could include: ‘Father of the Nation: Why Boris Johnson should be an example to us all,’ ‘British wombs for British babies: why we need “home grown” bin men!’ Or ‘Population planning: did Mussolini have the right idea?’
Last weekend Dr. Paul Morland of the University of Oxford argued that if we ladies don’t start popping out more babies they’ll be no one to staff his care home who speaks with a British accent so the government must, among many other measures:
- “Set some national goals [for population growth] and have an apolitical agency to monitor them — similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility.”
- “Adopt a ‘grow our own’ policy… Nearly 30% of births in the UK are now to mothers born overseas’”
- “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, with his seven known offspring, has a track record in this regard).
And, the noxious proposition still incinerating Twitter:
“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.”
The last time most of us checked in with the academic community, we were told we were selfish for wanting children because there’s an overpopulation problem. P.S the Duke and Duchess of Sussex aren’t having a third child to save the planet. Obviously, as women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Plus ça change.
In his latest book, Tomorrow’s People: The Future of Humanity in Ten Numbers, Morland blames us for not producing babies because we’re in the grip of ‘egoism’ – a new technical term he has invented which means ‘specifically the prioritising of personal projects above family formation’. Or, as I would interpret the same phenomenon: “spending your prime childbearing years working yourself into a nervous breakdown spending double what you’d pay in a mortgage renting a single room in shitty circumstances while having your dreams of meeting a man systematically destroyed by people with penises.”
At points, a sympathetic person might worry that Morland is unhinged. Does Gen Z know what a ‘telegram’ is – and, if they did, would it be a key motivating factor in producing three babies? The Fascist dictator Benito Mussonlini came up with far better baby-inducements: couples were given pre-marital loans if they got married and each child produced as a result cancelled part of the debt. If, as a woman, you produced five you won a medal, if, as a man, you produced six, you became exempt from taxation altogether.