05/10/2010

Child benefit

Child benefits has always been one of the few bribes benefits that neither the Tories or Labour could touch. Before discussing the proposed changes and the cack handed way in which they have been announced and applied, it is worth remembering why this benefit was paid on a universal basis in the first place.

Its not that long ago that men were  the only bread winners with women expected to stay at home and bring up the children. When I say not long ago, I mean in my lifetime. Working class men were paid their wages in cash  with a move to pay the middle classes directly in to a bank account.  It wasn't unusual for women to not know how much their husbands were paid and they would be given a "housekeeping allowance". When I lived in the pub I would regularly see men come in, open their wage packets, take out an amount for their wife and pocket the rest. Inflation meant nothing and any wage increases would be an excuse for a few extra beers.
 
So the idea of child benefit was to ensure that mothers got something to help them look after their children better, in the same way aid agencies in third world countries like to educate women, it directly benefits children. To this end the money was always paid directly to mothers, what they did with it was their own business and not their husband's, in theory. Middle class men could be just as selfish, if not more so, and their wives also received the benefit.

Given these circumstances it was always felt that means testing the benefit was demeaning to women and would be more costly than any money saved through means testing.  Means testing would have also meant delving in to the relationship - how mush does your husband give you? How much does he earn? etc. Any party or government proposing that sort of level of intrusion 30 years ago would have had riots on their hands and very short life expectancy*.

That is why it has become a sacred cow for both parties; Labour saw it as a way of helping a minority, women and children, and the Tories as a sop to the middle classes who are expected to pay for the welfare state.

Over time more women have started working in better paid jobs and child benefit has started to be paid in to joint bank accounts. So that is how we have arrived at professional women earning 6 figure salaries receiving child benefit irrespective of what their husbands earn and the Tories and a few bloggers have got in to such a mess over the announcements to make savings:


Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism over child benefit cuts after Labour claimed Conservative welfare reform plans were "unravelling".
Chancellor George Osborne said that from 2013 the benefit would be removed from families with at least one parent earning more than about £44,000 a year.
See what they did there, they applied the benefit to a couple, which is against the spirit of the benefit as I outlined above, and made themselves open to easy attack for their ignorance:
Ms Cooper responded: "The government's unfair attack on child benefit is now unravelling."
She added: "They have clearly been taken aback by the reaction of parents across the country.
"George Osborne and David Cameron obviously don't understand what it means for families on middle incomes to lose thousands of pounds a year."
Even Mrs Balls can go on the attack defending middle class parents without any sense of irony, FFS.

The question is: how have the Tories got themselves in to such a mess? As Dizzy says:

Look, the idea and principle of saying higher rate tax earners shouldn't really be getting a £20-or-so a week handout in child benefit is a good thing, but please, if you're going to do it at least execute the change with some sort of skill.

What you don't do is go on the telly and say that a couple earning £43,000 each, making their household earning £86,000 will still get the benefit, whilst a couple with only one working on £44,001 won't.
To answer my own question: that's what you get when you "modernise" and put the whipper snappers in charge of the asylum - great ideas, great energy just a lack of forethought.



If the Tories are going to be as ck handed as this when proposing and implementing cuts then they will get all they deserve at the next election.

*It says a lot about our new relationship with the state when these sorts of questions are seen as normal and even welcomed  and not dismissed as "none of your damned business".

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