This week around half a million families will have their child benefit partially or completely cut. This affects every household where at least one partner is earning over £50,000 a year. A decent wage. Indeed for many £50,000 will seem like riches. Should we care? Yes we should, and for several reasons.
Firstly there is a fundamental principle involved with universal benefits which we should defend. The introduction of universal benefits, like child benefit, represented a step towards a more egalitarian society where the interests and rights of the majority, of working-class people could be paramount. We need to hang onto everything that expresses a similar idea, whether that be in benefit rights, in rights and conditions at work, in the right to be part of a union and take action in defence of workers. All of these things are under attack.
Put simply paying a sum of money for all children irrespective of the income of their parents is the most efficient way of ensuring all children benefit, and are less likely to live a life of poverty.
Means tested benefits are often not taken up, even by people who are impoverished.
There is sometimes hidden need in superficially well off families. For instance, women in abusive relationships, or parents whose incomes are very unequal, or in large families, or where children have special needs… all may rely on child benefit as a means to adequately look after their children.
The child benefit cut is also part of a package of benefit changes and cuts being brought in which socialists and trade unionists should oppose. Other changes include the Universal Credit scheme which may yet prove unworkable and will certainly leave many people less well off.
Behind Universal Credit – with its professed incentives for claimants to “get out there” and find work etc. – is the idea that victims of inequality and joblessness are responsible for their own poverty and a benefit system promotes that indolent and destructive behaviour.
Finally it is likely that this cut is only the first cut in child benefit. As part of recently announced further £10 billion in benefit cuts, Duncan Smith wants to limit the amount of child benefit and child tax credits that people with children can claim to just their first two children.
He says people in work have to limit their families to a size they can afford. Why shouldn’t people on benefits? Is that common sense? No it is nonsense!
People who are working decide to have children they can’t “afford” all the time. The vast majority of people on modest incomes, would never have children if they thought that hard about how much children cost to bring up!
What Duncan Smith really means is that people who rely on the state for all or even part of their income are second class citizens, less good people, who should not be allowed to make the same ordinary, human choices that other people make about whether or not to have a child, or another child.
A lot of this is not really about saving money, getting down the deficit. It is about a long-term plan put in place some years ago – largely by Ian Duncan Smith – to penalise non-working families.
It is vital that the trade unions (most of which will have policy in favour of universal benefit) should defend universal benefits and push hard for Labour (which is silent on the matter, despite the child poverty strategy of the last government) to do the same.