I had the misfortune of reading an article in a certain newspaper about child benefit. It was very provocatively headed ‘It’s not fair to expect childless taxpayers to fund our children’ ….. As you can imagine, it attracted a lot of comments from people who were angry that a mother had dared to complain about losing her child benefit even though she and her husband earned a joint income of over £100,000.
I find it hard to imagine what it is like to live on that sort of income. I also find it even harder to believe that a family with this sort of income is financially struggling as is suggested in the article. So in many ways I understand some of the anger that this article has provoked. Nevertheless, I don’t agree with these reforms certainly not when it penalises the stay at home parent in the way that it does (two parents who earn below the threshold but jointly bring in £100,000 will retain their CB whereas one income families above the threshold of £50,000 start to lose theirs). I agree with the universality of child benefit because it is a way of recognising all children and those that care for them. Yes there are some very wealthy people who don’t need it but not everything is always what it seems. Take the lady who called my local radio station for example. A quietly spoken lady, she remained anonymous as she admitted to being married to a wealthy man whose job enabled them to lead an outwardly luxurious life. However, all was not as it appeared. Her husband denied her money and the only income she had was her child benefit which she used on her children. She expressed fear, and it did sound a genuine fear, as to what would happen to her when the government stopped her child benefit.
Before that conversation, I admit to being somewhat indifferent about the reforms to child benefit but listening to that lady made me realise we have to think of every family. It is easy to feel envious of the rich and to pity the poor and to be blinded about what is really happening behind people’s front doors but the reality is that families can end up in situations beyond their control. Its all very well arguing that people shouldn’t have children unless they can afford them but circumstances can change dramatically and quickly. Illness, disability, unemployment or marital difficulties can cause a lot of misery and sometimes child benefit can be a way of providing for their children.
Take my situation for example. I am a stay at home mother who has no choice but to stay at home. With two special needs children who are out of school I don’t have a choice about going to work. I simply can’t because I’m forced into being a full time carer. As a result I have to rely on carers allowance and child benefit as my only income. If I had a husband earning just over the threshold I would lose this child benefit. I would be forced to rely on my husband but as I illustrated earlier if my husband was emotionally abusive towards me I would not get a penny of his money. Where would that leave me and my children?
All too often we become so embroiled in the polarised rich versus poor argument that we forget that child benefit is about the child. To discriminate a child because of family income risks harming vulnerable people. As much as I resent the growing wealth divide, I cannot agree to a system that has the potential to harm children and their carers.
Children are our future and people need to remember that the younger generation will one day be running our country and looking after us when we are too fragile to work. At the very least we should be supporting every one of them.