Clair Woodward
4 min readJul 4, 2022


Taxing the childless, and other ways to kick us when we’re down

When the thing which irritates me least about a comment piece is that it praises Boris Johnson for the amount of children he’s fathered, it must really get my goat, but when demographer Professor Paul Morland opined in yesterday’s Sunday Times that due to the falling birthrate, we should tax the childless in order to encourage population growth, I went bloody ballistic.

I’d like to pick apart his recommendations, ideally with a jackhammer. Here we go:

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

● 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).

Many of us who don’t have children, particularly those of us who would have liked to, feel that every day celebrates parenthood, such is our pronatalist culture. And a telegram (telegram!!!) from the Queen for your third child? Gee, thanks woman with a tremendously messy family and no idea how her ‘subjects’ live — just like Boris Johnson and his assorted offspring, who would of course be labelled feckless if they lived in social housing in Salford. Johnson and his colleague Rees Mogg (six children) can at least afford to have a large family, even if they can’t pay for their own treehouses.

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.

This I can live with. Housing should be more affordable — for everyone, not just families. A Women’s Budget Group report from 2019 shows that housing is unaffordable for women in every English region, and an ONS report from the same year says of both sexes: “People aged 25 to 64 who live alone spend a greater proportion of their disposable household income than two-adult households on rent, mortgages and other housing costs, including energy bills, water and Council Tax”.

● 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.

No issue with this.

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.


Hang on — don’t those of us who don’t have children for any reason already pay tax and National Insurance to help everyone in society, most of us gladly? Of course I understand that children are our future (thanks, Whitney), but asking people who are childless by choice or circumstance to pay more tax is absolutely monstrous. Single households are already struggling; paying even more would be simply punitive.

Also, as government has zero commitment to care for those ageing without children, preferring to wang on about how families are the future for long-term care. The only charity which has our interests at heart, AWWOC, also points out that single men in particular are less likely to engage with informal social networks, and childless single men tend to be poorer, have less friends and worse health. So yeah, take more money from them, and offer them nothing they need in return.

On a personal level, I feel Morland’s piece was aimed well below the belt. As a single, childless woman in my late fifties, I have never felt more loathed and ignored by wider society, and totally useless. I’ve paid many years of tax, I think I’ve been a good aunt and friend to mates who have children, never claimed much by way of benefits, and now it seems that all Professor Morland — and I’m afraid all the political parties — feel that I should just disappear, as all I’ll be in the next few years is a drain on society, regardless of how much I’ve paid into it. Might be easier if I just dropped dead.

There are a plethora of organisations whose aim appears to be making later life better for people in Britain, but I have to ask what they have actually achieved, particularly when Wales and Northern Ireland - but not Scotland or England — have a Commissioner for older people. I’m expected to work another decade before I get my state pension, yet I appear to be unemployable — but why is no state body genuinely committed to challenging ageism in the workplace? People like Morland want me to pay tax towards other people’s kids, yet I can’t get a job. You haven’t thought this out, have you, Professor Morland — or indeed, anyone in a position to make a difference? Our ageing population is a timebomb waiting to go off, yet nobody able to make a change will grasp the problem, probably because old people aren’t as picturesque, PR-wise, as cute toddlers.

The lowest blow, though, in Morland’s piece, is the implication that as a person without children, you have no value. That’s bad enough, but as somebody who has no children and no partner, I feel doubly devalued. Weird. An outsider. Somebody who many people would perceive is neither use nor ornament, apart from for other people to pick over financially. We have a long way to go before people like me are only seen as a problem, when, if only we were ever listened to, could be part of the solution.



Clair Woodward

Journalist, editor. Writes about arts, entertainment, life. Follow and commission me — Twitter @clairywoowoo