Child benefit – why every family should get it

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.

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7 Responses to Child benefit – why every family should get it

  1. Bob says:

    This post perfectly covers the concerns I have with the implementation of the cuts. Where does it end? Will it end with “why should the rich get free healthcare/education?” or will it end with the rich asking “why should I subsidise the poor when I get nothing out of it?”. The latter argument may seem greedy, but not if we consider that the basic concept of tax is to fund things that benefit us all, as a society. What were witnessing now are people pitching against each other. Take a different context, how many people thought tuition fees were fair? Plenty of people thought that, yet it will ultimately lead to a less educated society and certainly a less socially mobile society.

    The argument that the rich should pay their fair share is correct, but it should be fair. If the rich don’t evade taxation, then they’re already contributing more than their poorer neighbours.

    So I agree with you, this is a benefit the rich should keep. Even the Beckhams should keep it. After all, the tax they pay probably pays for numerous schools alone.

    Finally, the issue of abusive partners, people who’s circumstance change (say through redundancy), and that of penalising stay-at-home-mums are issues which are neatly hiddened by the smoke & mirrors “greedy rich” articles and arguments.

    As you said, the idea of child allowance, was an allowance for every child. Since the rich pay their fair share in, they should received what’s fair too.

    This government would be better off going after blatant tax evasion. Of course, that’s not as easy as hammering “middle earners” (the rich will be able to offset this is tax savvy investment anyway).

    Great post

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Thanks Bob. I agree with what you say. People forget that the wealthier pay huge amounts of tax (where they’re not avoiding tax of course) and it makes sense that they should feel part of society too. One of the reasons why I support universal child benefit is for this reason; that it acknowledges all families and I think this is important in encourging a shared interest in parenting and family life.

      I think what is so disastrous about the CB reforms is the unfairness. People may argue that it is immoral to feel angry about these reforms (and maybe it is when you consider the plight of the elderly and disabled) but I don’t think it is immoral to argue over the unfairness of the new system. To allow individual earners with an income of £100,000 keep their CB whilst one income families lose theirs is bitterly unfair. And as I’ve already mentioned, it penalises those families where one parent stays at home and who themselves may be in a vulnerable position.

      If we are to share the burden of cuts that the government is imposing then it has to be fair in my opinion. CB like many other cuts is not fair; its a shambles. Even though I am in principle a supporter of universal child benefit, the reforms would be easier to accept if they were fair but they’re not. No wonder people are angry and no wonder this debate is continuing.

      Thanks for commenting Bob.

  2. As someone who has fought against child benefit cuts in Ireland for more than 3 years now, I fully support everything you’ve written and your comment above. Governments on both sides of the Irish Sea seem to be using this ‘divide and rule’ tactic of setting pensioners against young families, the unemployed against the civil service and so on, as though the choice is always between cutting the income of one group or another. I agree that there are many households where the total household income suggests that child benefit is not needed, and I would say that the answer to that is a marginal increase in tax on higher earners – it won’t need to be much, because child benefit is only a small payment, but it is a vital for one for many families, even those who may look well-off on paper. Great piece xx

  3. Laura says:

    I follow your blog and your twitter account, so I am aware of your situation and understanding gained through first hand experience of how disability impacts family life. What I said was that I question the morality of those whose “anger” is focused on CB cuts. I was referring to the kind of view-points expressed elsewhere in articles such as the one you mentioned at the beginning of your blogs. I could have made that clearer.

    I think we’re singing from the same hymn sheet with regard to equal opportunities for those in need to access support. The point I was making was that potential need and actual need are vey different things. With things as they are, I cannot support the issuing of benefits to those who MIGHT need it, while those who DO need it continue to suffer.

    We can, of course, agree to disagree :)

    • Aspie in the family says:

      Sorry for misinterpreting your comment Laura; I have to admit that I was quite shocked at the level of anger that resulted from the newspaper article. I agree with you in that respect; that attention to CB doesn’t seem right when our most vulnerable are having their vital support cut back. It really is terrifying as you and I both know. I see your point about potential and actual need but I still think that CB for some families does help to meet an actual need, particularly families where one partner stays at home. The unfairness of the new system, that is where both parents earn below the threshold but jointly bring in £100,000 but still retain their CB is absurb considering one income families just above the threshold of £60,000 lose theirs. It is this unfairness that is dominating the argument and taking attention from other pressing issues in my opinion. If the gov had introduced a fairer system then I think the reform would proabably have been accepted more quickly, even if people were against the idea. As it is, it is still rumbling on.

      As you say, we can agree to disagree on this but thankyou for your comments anyway.

  4. Laura says:

    The abuse scenario is an argument for better abuse support. That comes from funding social services, which are in crisis now.

    I cannot accept the idea that we should give money to the wealthy in case they experience a need for it, while poor children are in need NOW.

    The benefit reforms do not recognise shared care arrangements. That means that my brother, who earns £12k P.A., and shares equal care of his children with his ex partner, receives no support except housing benefit. His ex partner, who earns a little less than he does, is in receipt of housing benefit, child benefit and tax credits. From March 2013, my brother will no longer receive housing benefit. He will be classed as a single man (under the age of 35) and will be expected to live in a bedsit. In effect, his children will be made homeless and subject to social work intervention because their mother has mental health issues and was assessed as being unable to care for them for more than a few days at a time.

    I don’t believe that the child benefit cuts (to those better off) will change my brother’s situation. The point I’m making is that it seems indecent, to my mind, to suggest that potential need is as much a priority right now as actual need (as in my brother’s case). Should a wealthy woman find herself in need of abuse support, she can contact Women’s Aid or social services. What she would find, however, is that those services are almost at breaking pointsound they have been for some time. During that time, many people who do not need child benefit have been taking it while others suffer.

    Frankly, I have to question the morality of anyone whose anger is focused on child benefit cuts when people like my brother, children in care, the elderly and the disabled are being crippled by the system. For me, this issue is about priorities.

    • Aspie in the family says:

      I am a stay at home mother who has no choice but to stay at home. With two disabled 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 loose this child benefit and loose my independence. I would be forced to rely on him but as I illustrated in my post if my husband was emotional abusive towards me I would not get a penny of this. I understand your argument about better abuse support but as you said yourself there are crippling cuts to social services and not all victims of abuse can access that support. I know women who have been abused and have struggled to leave these power dominated relationships. I have worked with these women and know all too well how hard it is to build an independent life and the affects it has on their children.

      You are welcome to disagree with my blog but please don’t question my morality even if by implication. I have as much (if not more concern) about the plight of our elderly and our disabled. With an elderly grandmother who is about to go into social care and two disabled children I know only too well how hard it is to be some of our most vulnerable in society. I also know what it is like to a full time carer with hardly any hope of returning to work. Every day I see the anguish that our decaying state system is doing, every day I worry about my childrens futures and that of my grandmother so please don’t assume that I don’t know what it is like to feel like the forgotten.

      However I am not going to be drawn into the age old political trick of ‘divide and rule’ where we have different groups of people fighting over precious resources. Its a convenient political trick that is diverting us from the some of the most pressing questions we need to address as a nation. Neither am I going to ration my concern for other groups of vulnerable people. Just because my family is suffering doesn’t mean I shouldn’t feel compassion for those who aren’t in our situation but who are suffering in other ways. I understand your point about priorities but in my opinion, children, the elderly and the disabled are our priorities. Child benefit is about our children.

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