Taxing child-free people as an incentive to boost Britain’s birthrate is reprehensible, not to mention absurd. But giving young families a tax break in the form of more affordable and less-overcrowded holidays – and discouraging those without children from travelling during the sacred school holidays – might go some way to softening the rising costs of having children, which child benefit doesn’t begin to cover.
A pair of pensioners I visited recently (OK, yes, it was my parents), regaled me with the pros and cons of their latest holiday at an all-inclusive hotel in Crete. It was wonderful, they said. The hotel was fabulous, right on the beach, the sun shone every day, the sea was warm enough to swim in, except they swam in the pool instead (adults only, very quiet, lovely).
The only downside – as they explained over lunch to me, my partner and our young son – were the hordes of noisy little children in the hotel restaurant, clattering about and yelling and generally ruining every meal all week long. How odd, they mused, how remiss of the hotel not to have thought this through and banned children from the restaurant, at least at certain times of day if not entirely, or created a separate, adults-only dining room.
I just managed to clamp my lips together on a mouthful of poached salmon to prevent myself yelling THEN WHY ON EARTH DID YOU GO TO A FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOTEL IN THE MAY HALF-TERM SCHOOL HOLIDAYS??? (A more sceptical person might even wonder if they’re doing it on purpose to avoid mucking in with childcare.)
Turns out they’re not the only ones. Chris Wright, MD of Greek holiday specialist Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk), reveals somewhat surprisingly that in peak season their clients are made up as follows: 30 per cent families, 62 per cent couples and 8 per cent singles.
What? And more pertinently, why?
Who in their right mind chooses to go on holiday during the busiest and most expensive weeks of the year when they are free to go at any time? Child-free travellers have their adults-only hotels, their adults-only cruises and pools with swim-up bars for drinking adults-only cocktails. What do families – particularly those with kids in state schools whose holidays are shorter – get? Prohibitive prices, limited availability, chaotic airports and over-booked flights at absurd times of day seemingly designed to tip kids, and parents, over the edge.
Perhaps, I seethed as we moved onto the summer pudding, they – the child-free – should be banned from going on holiday during the school summer break (teachers excepted, pity them).
It’s bad enough in the supermarket at weekends, dodging this way and that behind obstreperous octagenarians who could peruse the tinned fruit aisle literally any other day of the week, but seem to favour Saturday mornings to do their shopping. But during the pandemic, when supermarkets gave pensioners the first hour of the day, things worked rather better. Could a similar concept work for rail and air travel, too? We all get our own allocated slot: pensioners only on Wednesday mornings, families only in the school holidays, and the rest of the child-free, light-stepping population get everything in between.
Just as we have adults-only hotels, why not families-only hotels? Hell, families-only planes, on which nobody so much as raises an eyebrow when little Olivia flings a yogurt across three rows of seats.
Eminent demographers might have other ideas. Instead of a telegram from the Queen on the birth of their third child, for example, mothers might receive a Tui voucher, to ensure future generations don’t miss out on their right to a fortnight at Daios Cove.
Maybe a premium-rate airport tax for the child-free, to incentivise couples to avoid travelling during peak season, and stop them clogging up the check-in queues, driving up prices, and judging our child-led parenting approach that allows our kids to make their own choices, be that standing on the seats, bashing the tray tables up and down or eating Quavers at 6am.
This way, we could all be surrounded by people who are all in the same boat. Then again, imagine the actual reality of being surrounded by people who are all in the same boat. Hordes of rampaging kids and indulgent parents all convinced that we are the tiredest. We can’t all have priority boarding. Planes would become mile-high Centerparcs. Hell in a handcart.
Most parents I know believe the solution to overcrowded, overpriced summer holidays is simple: for the Government to allow parents to take kids out of school for a week or two’s holiday during term time and off-peak – as in Japan and Sweden, for example – something the new Schools Bill has made it even harder to do.
This would help families, in particular low-income families who struggle to find affordable holidays in peak season – to take the break they need. Holidays are a luxury, not a right, it’s true – but travel is an education, and a source of valuable experiences that will enrich the lives of the generations to come.