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Comment: Women – taxation DOES have to be taxing

Comment: Women – taxation DOES have to be taxing

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Comment: Women – taxation DOES have to be taxing


Women not having the legal right to discuss their own tax affairs is not a Jersey ‘quirk’. It’s not fog or a filter-in-turn – or Minden Place Car Park. It is an out-moded social construct designed to reduce a woman’s financial independence... So why's it taking so long to undo?

In her latest Connect column, management speak decoder extraordinaire, Katherine Penhaligon, analyses the government's excuses, and explains why it should have been sorted yesterday.

"Every so often over many years the story about independent taxation for women in Jersey has popped up in that slightly embarrassed and apologetic way that it has.

You’ll see a small ‘news-in-brief’ piece that a Minister is once again being briefed by a slightly embarrassed and apologetic tax policy unit, so that they in turn can make a couple of breathy and non-committal comments about the need to change the system generally and, no, no one is pleased about the current system but, you know, it’s all quite difficult and there’s lots to change in the background. Laws and stuff. Old ones.

It's been about six years since a Treasury Minister made serious noises about “commitment and determination” to change a system which, disgracefully, forces a significant proportion of the tax-paying public to seek permission from someone else before they can discuss their own tax affairs.

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Pictured: The personal income tax system will soon be undergoing major changes.

But there isn’t any wiggle room, or grey areas, on this one. The fact that married women have no automatic right and control over their tax affairs is shocking. It was pretty shocking in 1979, let alone 2019. Even with this new impetus, should it outlast this current Council of Ministers, women will be waiting until at least 2021 before they can get married without signing away their tax affairs.

This is not – and never was – something that can be written off as a ‘quirk’ of living in Jersey. It’s not fog or a filter-in-turn – or Minden Place Car Park. It is an out-moded social construct designed to reduce a woman’s financial independence, and there is no justification for it.

It could be a coincidence and fantastic timing, but it is difficult not to make a link between the appointment of a woman to the role of Treasury Minister and this renewed enthusiasm – and aforementioned determination. 

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Pictured: For Katherine Penhaligon, it might not be just a coincidence that the aforementioned determination to sort out women taxation follows the appointment of a woman to the role of Treasury Minister.

This is probably a tad unfair on the tax policy bods (many of whom will also be women and, for the record, men without a misogynistic bone in their bodies), who have been beavering away on tax transformation for years, but haven’t had the backing, or the resources, to complete the job. Instead they have had to brace themselves against the incessant force of the righteous anger of generations of Jersey wives.

However, it is also fair to say that, as a male Minister, even when you know that it flies in the face of equality in which you believe, when a prejudice isn’t aimed at you and will mean the redrafting of several pieces of secondary legislation the easier option is to stick it straight back in the ‘nice to have’ pile. 

In practical terms, after all, it is just an annoyance; a tick box exercise to discuss your tax as a married woman or to get the right paperwork in advance (or just after, if memory serves) of the happy day. Given everything else that goes into a wedding, it is not a big ask.

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Pictured: "No one should have to ask the permission of another person to look at anything to do with their own financial affairs."

Except that it is. No one should have to ask the permission of another person to look at anything to do with their own financial affairs. Changing taxation in Jersey as it relates to married women is not a choice. The fact that households, and their gender make up, have changed makes it no less the case.  

In the fairly recent past, the Taxes Office made brief inroads into consultation on personal taxation with a questionnaire run through Facebook Messenger, which was laying the groundwork for wider consultation on questions which put some of the game back in the public’s court, by trying to find out whether they would be as keen on change if it meant paying higher tax rates.

But where that all starts to fall apart as a reason for maintaining the status quo is that financial independence should never depend on gender – ever. Asking people whether they would be willing to pay more for what should be their right entirely misses the point that it is simply wrong in the first place, and needs to be corrected. 

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Pictured: Financial independence should never depend on gender.

The argument has now moved on to a ‘which will cost more’ tussle between independent, and household, taxation and we will be consulted to crying point before a decision is made. It could also be worth playing the ‘Withnail and I’ drinking game on the number times ‘future-proofing’ is mentioned, to numb the pain.

It may seem like something that has been lived with for a long time, so what’s a couple more years and all that - but the government should be leading the way and it is already many, many years late in doing so."

This column first appeared in Connect, which you can read by clicking here.

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