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