“Should we be paying people to have children?”

// 10 October 2010

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piggy bank.jpgThus ran the not-at-all-leading title of a debate on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live earlier today. Apparently it was not obvious to the programme-makers that a maximum of £20.30 extra per week per child isn’t really enough to support said child, or to persuade someone that they should start procreating.

The debate focused on whether David Cameron is right to cut child benefit for wealthier families, and whether child benefit is necessary full stop. The ever-delightful Ann Leslie, from the Daily Mail, trotted out the usual right-wing bilge about single mums who should have thought twice before they got knocked up – haven’t they heard of contraception? – and decent working-class people who refuse to let certain women into their houses because they have five kids and “live off other people’s tax money”. Quite how she thinks a condom is going to prevent the children’s dad pissing off / being abusive / not being right for the mum is anyone’s guess (woe betide any woman who actively chooses to raise a child without a man present!). And we all know how easy it is to get a job when you’ve got five children to look after. Especially with our carer-friendly working culture and booming economy.

But right-wing nonsense aside, Cameron’s child benefit policy seems to me an obvious tactic to a) paint a a false veneer of fairness over an unfairly-targeted programme of cuts and b) try and deflect attention from these cuts by getting the right-wing middle class press up in arms. On the face of it, I think the idea that wealthier families shouldn’t receive money they don’t need is fair enough. But means testing brings with it yet more confusing and complicated paper work, huge admin costs, sneaky rules aimed at ensuring as few people as possible are able to claim the benefit, and the possibility that those who most need the money will not have the time, support and knowledge necessary to apply for and receive it. Better, surely, to say that as a society we value children and wish to support their carers so we will continue to give them a bit of extra cash with no strings attached, then take back money from wealthier families through different channels.

This proposal – like the rest of the cuts to come – is not based on fairness. Fairness would be targeting the wealthy individuals and corporations who avoid paying billions of pounds in tax, not women with caring responsibilities and children. Fairness would be choosing to cut spending on weapons and war, not on vital benefits and services for young people and the elderly, disabled people and those already living in poverty. Fairness would be taking profits back from the banks and wealthy companies and using that profit to create a fair society, where people are valued for how they support others, not how good they are at selling products that no one really needs or screwing over the rest of us to make money for a handful of super rich share holders. Taking a few dozen quid a week off middle and upper class families – some of whom are most likely propping up this sorry state of affairs anyway – isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference.

Image by Alan Cleaver, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 10 October 2010 at 9:51 pm

I find it fascinating that the British have finally bought into the model of children as consumer goods (which has been going about in the US for years now)- rather than as future workers, which was the justification for child benefits, schooling and other investments in children. The money spent on children is not about supporting other people’s choices, but about investing in our future economy, our pensions, our medical care, food, clothing etc in old age. It has even been seen to be about investing in our future soldiers who will defend our country in the future (something that is less fashionable as an argument today).

It also neglects the fact that child benefit was and generally still is paid to mothers to ensure that they had an income to support their children in an economic model which saw women as either non-working or earning signficantly less and reliant on handouts from husbands and male partners. Perhaps, this is no longer relevant in modern society, but it is interesting that it hasn’t even been mentioned in debates.

Finally, I thought it was hilarious that they intitially said benefits would be removed if one person earned over £44,000 in the household- without taking into account that in a two income household both people could earn less than this and still earn more than a one income household at this rate. Talk about forgetting that women can work too!!

Elena // Posted 11 October 2010 at 1:15 am

Feminist Avatar: I suspect the £44K business is to do with the fact that Child Benefit is administered by HM Revenue & Customs, so it makes administrative and financial sense to piggyback any means-testing on to existing structures.

My personal opinion is that Child Benefit is an anachronism. It would make far more sense I think to merge it with the tax credits system so that funds are more precisely targetted at poorer households, especially since parents on Income Support and other means-tested benefits have now been migrated on to Child Tax Credit.

This would of course would rely on people getting good help and advice, either from the government or outside agencies to claim what they are entitled to, and to deal with the hiccoughs if it goes wrong. The civil service has already had massive cuts and is expected to make more. Charities are facing funding cuts at local and national levels. To top it all there are further cuts on the way under the current Legal Aid tender and forthcoming review of Legal Aid, so it doesn’t seem likely unfortunately.

I work for an advice agency and I have to say we are all dreading Cameron’s meddlings in the benefits system. It’s always the most vulnerable that end up on the sharp end of these things.

A J // Posted 11 October 2010 at 2:33 am

@ Laura Woodhouse: “But means testing brings with it yet more confusing and complicated paper work, huge admin costs, sneaky rules aimed at ensuring as few people as possible are able to claim the benefit, and the possibility that those who most need the money will not have the time, support and knowledge necessary to apply for and receive it. Better, surely, to say that as a society we value children and wish to support their carers so we will continue to give them a bit of extra cash with no strings attached, then take back money from wealthier families through different channels.”

It’s hardly complicated. If you’re a top rate tax-paying household, then you can’t claim child benefit. Seems pretty simple to me. Not perfect – ideally, the limits would be much lower than that, but you can’t have everything.

And actually, if you’re going to talk about fairness, I think the idea that someone earning £12k has to pay extra tax to fund benefits going to someone earning £50k is *incredibly* unfair. More than unfair, actually – obscene.

But then I know condemning anything done by any government other than a Labour one is pretty much instinctive on here. Because Labour are great and everyone else is The Evil, obviously. Anything else wouldn’t be feminism…

Kez // Posted 11 October 2010 at 9:31 am

Yes, I agree, and what seems to be entirely missing in this is any indication from the government that children, and the raising of them, is in any way valued by society. As Feminist Avatar says it just seems that they are viewed as commodities.

When child benefit was introduced, admittedly in a different type of society than today’s, it was lauded as transferring money “from the wallet to the purse”. While many more mothers are in paid employment nowadays, it is still the case that for many “stay at home” mothers, Child Benefit may be the only money they have of their own. And of course for many, even so called higher earners, it is an integral part of the household income – a family with one wage earner of £44,000 and a few children/possibly another adult to support are unlikely to be swimming around in disposable income.

The rhetoric of “fairness” is predicated, if predicated is the word I want, on the notion that “lower earners should not be paying for benefits for higher earners”. This sounds good but is misleading, as higher earners have almost certainly already paid enough into the system to more than cover the cost of their own benefits. That’s how the system works.

Another anomaly-packed scheme from the Tories which not only seems to have been worked out on the back of a fag packet the night before it was announced, but also directly contradicts what they said during their election campaign.

Nick Kiddle // Posted 11 October 2010 at 10:06 am

The amount of stuff talked about means testing makes me feel faintly ill – you have it spot on that it will shut out many people who need and deserve it. I was unable to claim Maternity Allowance when I was pregnant, despite being entitled, because I couldn’t lay hands on all my pay slips (we’d just had a house fire!) and basically couldn’t face wading through yet another poorly designed form. Having a benefit that I could claim without jumping through any stupid hoops – even if that benefit wasn’t enough to pay any of my living costs – came as an enormous relief.

And people who talk about having children in order not to work are so staggeringly ignorant I want to cry. Do they think having children isn’t hard work in itself?

Laura // Posted 11 October 2010 at 11:09 am

@ AJ – I meant that the process of proving you are entitled to certain benefits is often complicated, not the proposal itself.

A J // Posted 11 October 2010 at 11:41 am

@ Kez: “And of course for many, even so called higher earners, it is an integral part of the household income – a family with one wage earner of £44,000 and a few children/possibly another adult to support are unlikely to be swimming around in disposable income.”

“So called higher earners”??? Are you having a laugh.

The average income in the UK is around £22k. The average household income in the UK is about £30k. If you’re earning £45k you’re in about the top 15% of household income. So you blooming well ARE higher income. In fact, you’re positively well off.

Some people seems to have a bizarrely blinkered view on what people actually earn. Maybe its because they don’t associate with people who earn average or low wages? I don’t know. But the idea that £45k a year isn’t wealthy is beyond belief.

The worst thing is, the people demanding state benefits, with money taken from the poor, while pulling in top-level salaries, are usually the same ones claiming to be socialists…

So sorry, no, I’m not going to feel sorry for the £50k-earner who has to cut back on their ‘Taste the Difference’ purchases and maybe rent a slightly less luxurious villa in the south of France. I’ll feel sorry for the checkout worker on £10k who previously had to help fund it.

angercanbepower // Posted 11 October 2010 at 11:42 am

Taking a few dozen quid a week off middle and upper class families… isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference.

But Laura, that’s just not true. A £20 per child per week saving will save an enormous amount of money. The government reckons £1bn (although admittedly it will probably be less than they estimate). But I don’t see why you would be against the principle of the state not paying out money to top-rate taxpayers. The beauty of this move is that it’s essentially a significant tax rise on the wealthy, and yet because it’s presented as a benefit cut it doesn’t elicit the same market hysteria that, say, increasing income tax would.

You also say,

Cameron’s child benefit policy seems to me an obvious tactic to… from these cuts by getting the right-wing middle class press up in arms.

And yet that’s exactly the trap you’re falling into. The very same speech announced a benefit cap of £26k p/a for families, or around £500 p/w, which is simply not enough to live on in some areas (i.e. inner London).

The budget has also mentioned massive reductions in housing benefit by tying it to the 30th percentile of rents, further cuts of by 10% to HB to those who most need it (i.e. those who have been on JSA for more than a year), potentially ending direct payments to social landlords through the universal credit which will increase arrears and therefore eviction and ultimately homelessness, cuts in DLA by 20% in 2013, more stringent assessment rules for DLA and ESA increased frequency of assessments, the list goes on and on.

And yet, as you say, everyone is talking about child benefit when it’s actually the best change to welfare benefits that has been made.

Troon // Posted 11 October 2010 at 12:14 pm

The problem with being ‘fair’ here, though, is that it necessarily involves being complicated which, as you say, means low uptake and the most vulnerable hit. A single mother earning 45k but needing childcare; a woman in a couple earning a total of 45k and paying for childcare; and a couple where one earns 45k and the other contributes through childcare have very different real needs. But to assess this means actually going through a process such as that needed to claim tax credits, which is hideous. So I’m not sure this makes this alternative worse or better for women as a group than say using household income or an estimate of income taking childcare into account, just that different women benefit from this approach than from others (in this case women in low, middle or non-earning households gain; well-paid single mums or carers whose partners are in well paid employment lose; and those who work and pay childcare costs aren’t hit by having their total pre-childcare income crudely assessed).

I was far more worried by proposals to throw poor women into deeper poverty and their kids into starvation by arbitrarily capping benefits at an average figure despite their needs, to cease testing either by need (or, related to it) by means at all, and by Hunt’s dog whistle on feckless women (despite the fact most large families claiming more than 26k benefit are actually two parent households). Can we to use this thread to discuss that too?

sianushka // Posted 11 October 2010 at 12:29 pm

AJ

But then I know condemning anything done by any government other than a Labour one is pretty much instinctive on here. Because Labour are great and everyone else is The Evil, obviously. Anything else wouldn’t be feminism…

That’s pretty unfair. i think labour came in to a lot of just criticism on this site, esp over their foreign policy. This site criticises political actions that have a negative impact on women and the current govts cuts that totally pay no heed to gender equality duties need to be criticised.

Laura // Posted 11 October 2010 at 1:31 pm

@ Troon – yes please go ahead. That’s why I mentioned the cuts more generally in my last paragraph – I just started off with the child benefit because the BBC debate enraged me during my egg and soldiers.

(As ever, can I please point out that I have limited time for blogging, and have been particularly busy this week, but I do intend to blog further on the cuts in future.)

Kez // Posted 11 October 2010 at 1:56 pm

AJ – no, I’m not “having a laugh”. Actually, I don’t fall into the “higher earner” bracket by a long shot – we have a joint household income (two adults) of under £40,000, one child at university, one in childcare, no holidays in the South of France or anywhere else, and a lot of juggling to make ends meet. I’ve survived on a much lower income in the past (having been a single parent for many years) and I certainly don’t claim to be on the poverty line, but nor do I think a few extra thousand a year would suddenly propel us into the “wealthy” or “top-level salary” bracket!

However, these proposals would obviously not affect me personally, so that’s not why I’m opposing them. I’m opposing them because I believe they are unfair, badly thought out and fraught with anomalies.

Troon // Posted 11 October 2010 at 5:19 pm

@Laura,

Sorry, I wasn’t meaning to suggest willful omission, and angercanbepower had already said much of what I might have done. But I will say something.

The cap is an evil of the highest order. It starts with a Big Lie-that people are doing too well out of the system. Yet nobody ever got rich of needs-tested benefits, which barely cover what they are supposed to. And what they are supposed to cover is day-to-day life, which makes hand-to-hand living a necessity. Yet somehow those with high need are being portrayed as living it up in mansions, bathing in champagne and waiting for retirement to the Algarve. It’s bollocks.

Women are going to suffer disproportionately in real terms from what comes. Women make up (according to my MP) 64% of those claiming over 26k. And they are going to suffer because, even if you swallow the Big Lie and think this might change future behaviour, those on benefits now have real needs that won’t vanish. And as as poverty hits, comes misery, violence and death. These cuts are nothing less than death warrants.

But beyond that its the sudden peddling of the idea of ‘normal’ or ‘average’ as appropriate to benefits. There are no average people in the real world. And when averages come into play they extend themselves magically to ‘normal’ people, which excludes single Mums, working women and, eventually, women generally. What it plays to is the idea, long pushed by Labour’s rights and responsibilities crap, that benefits are an individual contract, in which we all guard what’s ours. But they’re not, they’re a way in which those of us who want other people’s basic needs met and can’t do it in person fulfill our obligations as human beings. And I’m quite pissed off at people failing to notice or believe that possible.

I know I’m ranting, too long reading hatred on mumsnet and Cif, and that there is no real solution to cuts somewhere (although perhaps a little thought to tax might work). But what is being achieved here goes beyond the hideous practical effects, it is a consolidation of an ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude which suggests people are and should be cruel and selfish, and that Jill in particular can sod off when she comes tumbling down.

Ruth // Posted 11 October 2010 at 5:47 pm

I too am surprised at how many people seem to think that £45k a year is an “average” salary but then maybe I just don’t know many people (know a few on the internet but none in “real life”) who earn that sort of money.

Having said that, I’d gladly “pay” out of my ten k a year for this benefit to be universal: here’s the thing. Once you start getting rid of universal benefits (and okay, £45k is a hell of a lot of money, but it will, I’m sure, be the thin end of the wedge and we will see the threshold being lowered and lowered) then they become a benefit that only “low income” people get. And therefore become stigmatised, become something that “scroungers” get, and of course, it’s then easier to do away with it all together (I mean, after all, who wants “scroungers” getting money, eh?). Certainly it discourages takeup of the benefit.

But having said all that, I am more than a little perturbed that there has been such a hoo-hah over this one benefit cut that will – at least currently – only affect the top income earners but that the proposed changes to housing benefit and disability living allowance, which really have the power to mess up people’s lives and increase homelessness, have kind of been ignored.

It’s almost like the people who run the media earn over £45k a year isn’t it? WHO KNEW?!

Anna Ford // Posted 12 October 2010 at 3:16 am

Please stop the sqawking about ‘households on more than £45,000’ – it’s just a clever manipulation to stop you noticing the real story – Many wealthy don’t pay tax at the higher rate, people with a private income from shares will still get it. The child benefit cut will absolutely hurt the working poor – the father of your child might be an off shore worker who works overtime for a couple of weeks. He’ll sneak into the higher rate, only for a couple of weeks, but long enough for your child benefit to stop, just as you are made redundant from your minimum wage public sector job. He’ll get drunk in Aberdeen and lose the money in a casino while you are telling your children they can’t go on the school trip after all.

Using the tax system as a means test is stupid because the rate of tax you pay is based on where your income comes from – not how much it is.

Anji // Posted 12 October 2010 at 9:21 am

I think the idea that someone earning £12k has to pay extra tax to fund benefits going to someone earning £50k is *incredibly* unfair. More than unfair, actually – obscene.

So you think that person earning 12k will end up paying less tax as a result of the cuts? Hardly.

A J // Posted 12 October 2010 at 1:18 pm

@ Anji

“So you think that person earning 12k will end up paying less tax as a result of the cuts? Hardly.”

Don’t know if it’s escaped your notice, but we’re currently all in the midst of a massive economic crisis, trying to sort out the enormous deficit and vast mountain of debt run up by the Labour government! It’s mostly a case of who’s going to be losing most – and it’s right that that should be the £45k+ earning rich, rather than the £12k earning poor.

Obviously, it’s lovely just to spend more and more money and just rack it up on the national credit card bill, but that’s what Labour did for years, and got us into this awful mess in the first place.

But for what its worth, the coalition is in the process, over 5 years of raising the tax free personal allowance to £10k, paid for by higher taxes on high earners. So yes, the person earning £12k will benefit *massively* over the next few years. Far more than they did in the previous decade.

Obviously, as this is not a Labour policy, it must still be a bad thing, though. Because the coalition is The Evil.

@ Anna Ford

I’d certainly fully support removing child benefit from those with unearned income too, though I imagine the cost of working all that out is rather more significant compared to the money it would save. Making out that offshore workers aren’t well off is pretty ludicrous though – knowing quite a few people who work offshore, I know that they do very very nicely indeed (hard work, though, obviously), and should certainly not be getting child benefit!

angercanbepower // Posted 12 October 2010 at 2:06 pm

Troon,

Your Big Lie is certainly part of the story, but I think we do our opponents a favour when we ignore the huge problems with benefits that need to be addressed. Firstly, I think we need to see the £26k benefit cap for what it really is: a reduction in housing benefit, which is by far the largest individual benefit paid out. Regardless of what you and I might think about individual need, most of the country believes that there are significant problems with the status quo (and I think I agree with them):

1. The state pays out a huge amount of money in housing benefit (£20bn per year). As IDS keeps reminding us, this has increased by £5bn in the last 5 years and there is no reason why this trend will not continue unless we change the system.

2. Property prices are too high for most people to consider owning their own property without parental assistance before being well into their 30s (average age is 37 according to Grant Shapps today).

3. Problem 1 to some extent exacerbates problem 2 for two reasons:

(i) Increased demand in desirable areas inflates prices.

(ii) In at least some cases landlords are able to charge above even this inflated rate as they bill the local authority who in turn pass it on to Whitehall and there is little incentive for anyone involved with the landlord to negotiate lowered rents.

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about how the Somali family driving a Mercedes around their state-funded mansion is a Daily Mail fantasy, or how cutting welfare to the most vulnerable is unlikely to work as it will just increase costs through more state interventions happening at acute stage (and believe me, I do!). However, I think we lose credibility when we try to pretend that Tory policy is entirely founded on bigotry and disregard for poor people. We need to accept that a lot of the problems the Tories are trying to solve are real, even if their solutions are too harmful to too many people for us to embrace them.

Sorry, this was a bit of a rant too and perhaps this isn’t really the place for it. I just get frustrated.

maggie // Posted 12 October 2010 at 4:08 pm

The real issue here, as I see it, has nothing to do with those who earn less paying for those who earn more, because if that is extended then it could also be argued that why should those who earn less subsidise free health care for those who earn more.

No, what is happening is that a free market American style way of life is being forced upon us in the disguise of budget deficits. It will mean that far from taking our grandchildren out of debt it ensures they stay firmly in it.

Universal benefits do just that. They benefit all in society and unite us in a common cause for good.

Sheila // Posted 12 October 2010 at 9:06 pm

I think there is quite a lot of misinformed opinion here about how the tax system works. I also think that a lot of people are showing more socialist sympathy than feminist sympathy. For example, Laura writes, “If you’re a top rate tax-paying household, then you can’t claim child benefit. Seems pretty simple to me. Not perfect – ideally, the limits would be much lower than that, but you can’t have everything.” The problem is that a top rate tax-paying household may comprise one earner – a man – who does not support his partner or his children properly. My own mother used to be very grateful as a non-working mother for her child benefit which was her only independent income for her to spend as she saw fit without accounting to her husband. Equating households with women is just plain wrong. Assuming that each household member has equality is just plain wrong. That’s where child benefit as a universal benefit had a real role and value to play. I don’t disagree with the removal of child benefit from higher rate tax payers is a bad thing, even though I’ll personally lose more than a month’s net income per annum as a result and that will hurt. But I do think that many of you are using arguments of convenience and forgetting the many women who will very noticeably suffer because of it. Belonging to a higher rate tax paying household is small comfort if you are economically disempowered in your own right, as many women will be as a result of this. This thread has become more about money and less about enpowerment and equality for woman than I would like to see.

Laura // Posted 12 October 2010 at 10:03 pm

@ Sheila – AJ wrote that, not me :-)

Anji // Posted 12 October 2010 at 10:16 pm

It hadn’t escaped my notice, thank you for the condescension. I was merely pointing out that to the person earning 12k, it makes no difference whether someone earning 45k is getting benefits or not, because the amount the person earning 12k pays in tax won’t change a bean.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 13 October 2010 at 12:19 am

The thing is that the ‘OMG financial crisis’ is really a matter of political opinion, rather than objective fact. UK national debt is measured as a percentage of GDP- so how bad it is is at least partly determined by the state of the overall economy.

The current thinking is we want to have debt at about 40% of GDP- currently its about 70%. After WW2, debt was at 180% of GDP; five years ago during economic boom, it was between 30-40%. So, we could say, look debt is nothing like it was in the 50s, or we could say its almost twice what current economics thinks is a good idea. It’s just spin.

At the same time, as it a product of percentages, you might want to respond like Labour did after recession and invest lots of money into the economy (a fair whack of our current debt comes from bailing out the banks) because if the economy gets better fast then your percentages come down, even if the amount of debt doesn’t. Or, you can respond like the Tories and say cuts, cuts, cuts, and hope that the economy rights itself (this sounds critical of the Tories, but they do have a laissez-faire approach to economic recovery, so this is just another way of doing things).

The difference is that most people of a socialist mindset would rather we spent a bit more on the economy so less of us lost our jobs and so that our most vulnerable don’t see their benefits lost, and have a bit more debt- than the alternative. Especially, as the longer term impact of unemployment can devastate whole generations as we can see from the application of similar economic policy in the Thatcher era. And, also because the more people unemployed, the poorer your GDP, so therefore the bigger your debt percentage!

And, the problem with the current benefit cuts is that while they seem ’eminently sensible’ (why do rich people need child benefit), they are really the first steps in the reduction and removal of the welfare state. And, for many of us, this is hugely problematic when it comes from an ideological basis, rather than from an evaluation of the actual impact of changing benefits to people’s standard of living. It is even worse when it is slapped together with ridiculously simplistic measures of calculating household wealth!

Anna // Posted 13 October 2010 at 12:59 am

@Sheila “This thread has become more about money and less about enpowerment and equality for woman than I would like to see.”

I think this is all about dis-empowering women because it’s specifically women, rich and poor, who will lose access to a tiny amount of independent income and for many that will mean being entirely reliant on the good will of a man while they are giving birth and bringing up the people who will be looking after you when you need it. Of course the ‘taking from the rich and giving to the poor’ sentiment sounds great, but that’s not at all what this policy will achieve. I know it is boring to go on about stories of unfairness but I think it’s important to point out that this isn’t just a bit of an anomaly, a waitress earning £100 per week will loose the benefit because her absent husband does some overtime, while the owner of the restaurant she works in is still eligible for it – how can that be fair? Many people who work off shore earn very good wages while they work, but the work is temporary, erratic and seasonal, so that while they may earn £5,000 in a single month, pushing them temporarily into a higher tax rate, over a year they only earn £15,000. And for that month it’s not them but the mother of their children who loses. A self employed person, such as a restaurant owner, an optitioan, a dentist, with a good accountant, will set themselves up as a limited company and pay themselves a minimum wage and then take dividends from the company, so that they may well make a profit of £80.000 and still be a lower tax rate earner. I’m very happy for the self employed to pay tax in this way – the economy needs to encourage entrepreneurship and risk taking so I’m not saying that the tax system is wrong, simply that it can’t be used as a cheap means testing system, because it’s not actually related to your ‘means’, and then described as ‘fair’. If Britain really can’t afford to ensure the welfare of mothers and children with £15 a week a more ‘fair’ way to cut the bill would be to stop the benefit when the child reaches 14 instead because by then a mother is able to work because child care won’t be an issue. I’m happy for £15 a week of my tax to go to a millionaire footballers wife while she’s struggling to work out how to breastfeed, change nappies, read through baby books to work out how to get some sleep and pretend she isn’t in shock at the responsibility of having another human being to look after, because I want to make sure every woman struggling with the joy and pain of bringing a human being into this world has access to some money without having to ask a man to give her some.

A J // Posted 13 October 2010 at 2:29 am

@ Anji

But it does make a difference, because in a time of cutbacks, £1 billion saved from the rich is £1 billion that doesn’t need to be taken from services and benefits important to low earners and the poor.

@ Sheila

Child benefit can be claimed by either parent, not just the mother, of course. I get your point though. But I don’t really agree that Child Benefit is the best way to deal with issues of economic disempowerment within families tbh – especially not well off ones.

@ angercanbepower

Housing benefit has been a total gravy train for certain landlords. It’s a pretty terrible system thats wide open to abuse. Just pretending things can be left as they are is pretty cloud cuckoo land, I think. Not that I necessarily believe that a £26k cap on benefits is the answer (or the right answer, anyway)!

But the opposition definitely have to present some genuine credible alternatives, I think. And that goes for most of these changes being proposed. There’s no point just criticising unless you’re also presenting plausible alternative ideas – especially since all parties are agreed (one way or the other) that there has to be major cutbacks in government spending.

Sheila // Posted 13 October 2010 at 11:01 pm

@Anna

Dividends are taxed as income. It isn’t that simple to get round paying income tax.

This is a hard topic. I don’t want to subsidise women who choose not to work – I’ve always worked myself and I don’t see why I should subsidise another’s choice, so on that basis you couldn’t differentiate child benefit entitlement on whether the mother works or not. But as a practical matter, I think the women it benefits the most are those who are otherwise personally economically disempowered, even if they live in a wealthy household. I’d be quite frankly livid if I paid tax in order to pay benefits for someone not to work who felt I was a bad mother BECAUSE I worked. So we are back with this needing to be a universal benefit – or there being alternative benefits. As a single mother with no choice but to work, I don’t want to subsidise middle-class mothers who have the luxury of choosing not to work. But if I end up doing well at my job and earning over the threshold, bang goes my benefit. And as I previously said, I guess that’s the least unfair cut of all the cuts, so I don’t oppose what the Lib-Cons have done.

Troon // Posted 14 October 2010 at 5:12 pm

An acquaintance of mine once likened the benefits system to her wheelchair: helpful; drawing comments of ‘special treatment’ yet, ultimately, not in itself good enough and, even if it were the best she could hope for, never going to compensate unless the rest of the world changes. That analysis seems very apt as I read this.

Housing Benefit is the best example-it’s massive because house prices have risen. And so the basic choice facing anyone who buys into the personal entitlement thing and feels that they’ve ‘worked hard to pay the mortgage’ while some other family get more for having their rent subsidised’ is-are you going to give up the rise in value of your house to compensate? Or up your mortgage to the equivalent of rent plus a bit? Or do anything to lower house prices? And if you find tax credits offensive, are you going to pay more for your food to provide a living income to those who claim them? And if child benefit seems bad and you want folk with well paid partners to work, are you going to provide childcare free yourself? And since in practice none of us can make a difference by doing those things individually, we’re stuck with the broader system as it is. In which case, your ‘entitlement’ as a non-claimant seems to be more than being met, and perhaps a little sense of the way your privilege directly relates to what you find offensive might help.

So we can waffle all we like about ‘credible alternatives’ or ‘accepting flaws’ but fundamentally the flaws come from things that advantage those we’re supposed to be responding to. Perhaps a little consciousness raising rather than pandering to the ‘my work, your benefits’ instincts so current at the moment might help.

Horry // Posted 14 October 2010 at 8:16 pm

“I want to make sure every woman struggling with the joy and pain of bringing a human being into this world has access to some money without having to ask a man to give her some.”

I find sentiments such as these quite disturbing. Many of us “struggling with the joy and pain of bringing a human being into this world” do so while in paid employment, and are no less valuable and responsible when it comes to “bringing up the people who will be looking after you when you need it”. Such intimations of a debt of gratitude are ultimately judgemental and exclude huge numbers of women, while reinforcing the dependency of others by presenting it as inevitable and thereby blocking off alternatives.

Anna // Posted 16 October 2010 at 10:09 pm

@Horry said

“I find sentiments such as these quite disturbing”

I didn’t mean my (admittedly stupidly sentimental, I am on medication!) comment to be exclusively about mothers who choose not to work, and I am very sorry if that’s how it came across. I am a working mother and, like most mothers, have had no choice but to work.

If I thought for a moment the cut in child benefit was really only going to effect a few well off families, who have to do without treats because they’ve taken on too big mortgages, I wouldn’t be particularly upset. The problem is that if you look at what Osborne actually proposed the outcome will be hardship for people on very low incomes with no impact on many of the very wealthy. The Poll Tax was supposedly about helping “little old ladies” stay in their large family homes . It wasn’t until the bills started dropping through the letterboxes that the true reality, unfairness and extreme hardship for the poor for the benefit of the wealthy became apparent. The press focusing on the hardship for the ‘yummy mummy’ demographic, which is clearly going to alienate the majority of the country who live on much less, is such a brilliant smoke screen it probably came out of the back door of Tory central office.

Just like the Poll Tax the new bureaucracy involved will cost more than it can save and cause misery and hardship to people, but disproportionately to women, when they are venerable.

Child benefit is only worthwhile if it is universal so that it can cover emergency situations.

Child benefit is roughly equivalent to each child having a personal tax allowance. As all adults effectively get this ‘benefit’ why should children not? This is also a reason why stopping CB at 14, when a child is able to work themselves and use their tax allowance themselves, would be much more fair.

The tax system cannot be a useful means test system anyway (just go to a building site and ask the lowest paid employees about the anomalies in the working family tax credit system) but most especially when you only pick on one tax-rate and not income.

To start linking 2 tax payers to each child benefit application is whole new level of red tape for new parents to go through which will cause problems we can’t even begin to imagine. In reality it is most often the mothers who fill in the forms and what happens if the father refuses to divulge his tax number?

Osborne’s proposal is only ‘fair’ if every family is an equal power relationship and earns a consistent income throughout the year. That might work in some theoretical economic model but it’s certainly not the reality of life for many people I know who work in insecure, seasonal jobs.

The accountants have now got a whole new incentive, till 2013, to play a cat & mouse find a loophole fill a loophole game to keep their clients out of the higher rate tax band – a point to Osborne already for catching the pension pot one, but tricky when you get about the taxes that give incentives small businesses and investors because the country needs them now.

Parents have got a whole new reason to separate officially – will that be the new ‘divorce’ for the unmarried – take his tax code off the CB book? And when does the lodger get his name on it?

This proposal will be an expensive disaster.

Unlike the Poll tax, which ended up being replaced with a hasty retreat driven tax only marginally better than the original rates, this will result in CB being abolished altogether.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 17 October 2010 at 7:02 pm

In defence of child benefit for children over 14- the reason CB was given to children while they were at school was to encourage children from poor families to stay on at school. For many households, £20 a week is a lot of money and many children were and still are expected to leave school when they are able to earn. For some, that extra £20 took the pressure off, allowing those children to stay in school.

I would also add however that child labour laws now make it increasingly difficult for children under 16 to find any sort of work- and let’s remember that unemployment is now highest up the 16-25 age group, so putting more pressure on that job market is perhaps unrealistic.

Troon // Posted 18 October 2010 at 1:41 pm

@Anna

I share your concerns, but don’t think some of the more practical ones are as severe as you imagine. Seasonal income, for example, shouldn’t matter because tax is assessed yearly. It’s true that PAYE might be deducted, but seasonal workers can (and should) claim that overspend back (I’ve done this myself), they’re not stuck in a top tax bracket. Neither does it make the forms more complicated because the information of individuals and households are already assessed from individual records. And one top-rate taxpayer isn’t a very bad guide to combined income-the median income for households with one such payer is 75,000 and under 10% of those with no such taxpayer even reach the threshold when earnings are combined (this from my MP).

This isn’t to say I think it’s fair. But to be really ‘fair ‘ you’d have to actually go down a line like tax credits-assessing income, childcare costs and (if you’re very committed) reasonable regional variations in cost. And that,as you said, isn’t very easy to negotiate and introduces its own unfairnesses in claims levels. I’d still prefer that: there is something oddly obscene about suggesting I will be more ‘needy’ in two years time because I will be earning less, yet will actually be be very well off because I’ll have minimal childcare costs.

I’m far more concerned it is the start of abolition than that, as suggested, it is too complicated or deeply unfair in ways which hurt the poorest.

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