Child benefit cuts: fair reform or heartless insult to the poor?

Oct 29, 2012

Opponents compare Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms to China's draconian one-child policy

AS TAX officials prepare to tell one million UK households that their child benefit will be slashed, critics have compared the reform to China's draconian one-child policy.

Households in which one person earns more than £50,000 will be told by the UK tax authority this week that they will have their benefit stopped or reduced on 7 January.

In a speech last week, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (above) said the welfare system is "promoting destructive behaviour" by encouraging poorer families to have more children and denying them the incentive to get a job. But not everyone agrees.

"What is this: 'Benefits China'?" asks Barbara Ellen in The Observer, describing Duncan Smith's "ludicrous and cruel" proposition as an insult to the poor.

"The truth is there aren't even that many over-procreating skivers," she says. "The vast majority of people on jobseeker's allowance are back working within a year and only four per cent have more than two children."

Yasmin Alibhai Brown in The Independent on Sunday calls the reforms vicious and ideologically backwards. "Iain Duncan Smith wants to take child benefits and tax credits from mothers who have a third child and any more thereafter. Unbeatable China has a draconian one-child policy, so why not us?"

As well as comparing Duncan Smith to a reincarnation of Chairman Mao, Alibhai Brown suggests he is akin to past advocates of sterilisation for "degenerates”.

She writes: "IDS is apparently an ideological progeny of those, who, over history, wanted to curtail the reproduction of humans they considered a nuisance, feckless, feeble and dispensable.”

Duncan Smith has one supporter, at least. "Stop this hysteria!" cries Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail. "Why should the state pay for women on benefits to have more than two children?"

IDS is not suggesting a Chinese-style two-child maximum for families, says Phillips, merely that the state shouldn't “shell out for every subsequent child". Millions of working families make "prudent and responsible" financial calculations as to whether they can afford a child or not. So why should this be any different for people living on benefits?"

A poll commissioned by the Tories suggests more people are of the Daily Mail’s view, with 82 per cent of voters supporting the cut, including people who will be potentially affected.

But Jenny McCartney in The Daily Telegraph reminds her readers of William Beveridge's intention when he first recommended welfare reform in 1942 as a "necessary" temporary safety net.

"What of the divorced mother of three who has lost her job, or the widowed father of four who has fallen ill?" she asks. "Their choices rapidly become not about which kind of summer holiday to go on, but whether they can put proper food on the table.

"We need to have this open discussion, about what welfare does and is meant to do, and how far our perceptions are actually reflected in statistics. But I still don't envy IDS in struggling to devise a system that can fairly sift between the family freeloaders and the unlucky."

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"What of the divorced mother of three who has lost her job, or the widowed father of four who has fallen ill?"

This statement shows that the commentator doesn't actually understand the issue. Child benefit is calculated regardless of whether you are on other benefits (incl. unemployment & illness) or fully-employed. In the latter statement there would be no change in either event, with the exception being that if either was a high earner they would be caught by the safety net if they lost income.

It is difficult to see how thoughtful people can take Yasmin Alibhai Brown at all seriously.

We are a family, of a stay at home mother and a father on
£60k, therefore losing all of our child benefit. As a higher rate tax payer our
net income is equivalent to two parents having a gross income of £26500. Is a
family of two earners on £26500 really in the top 10% of earners?) Bearing in mind 2 earners on
£49000 will still receive child benefit. Also as a higher rate tax payer we
have put more than twice as much NI and TAX money into the tax pot than two
earners on the lowers salary. This discriminates against families with single
earners. The figure are distorted and discriminatory.

Is a family of two
earners on £23000 to £26500 really in the top 10% of earners? Because
this equates to one family earner on £50000 to £60000

god i love to have a income of 50 i would not mind not having the benfits i work 40 hr a week i get black and have to have a barth to get clean i pay 90 a week for fuel o get to work and i only get 20 000 befor tax and get no help from the guvemet i have to pay it all with what i have so why cart you all live on your wage like thay did in the pre 1970 not on a hand out state