Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child benefit cuts is not the story!

There were two big pieces of news in George Osborne's speech yesterday: 1) child benefit is going to be taken away from the top earners; 2) benefits are to be capped at £26,000. Whilst everyone is talking about child benefits, it's the benefit cap which is most concerning and disgusting. The difference, however, is child benefits are being taken away from nice hard working families(i.e., people like us), not from the workshy benefit scrounging scum (i.e., people like them).

The Daily Mail would have people believe that we live in an age where those on benefits are "living high on the hog at taxpayers' expense". Of course it's rubbish, unless 'high on the hog' means having no money 90% of the time - not 'no money' as in "I'm having to holiday in the UK this year because we have no money", but "I can't buy a pint of milk because I have no money". The sort of poverty that grinds you down and kills any ambition to get up in the morning, let alone get on in life. The sort of poverty that when you are born into, is very difficult to get out of. The sort of poverty that we should help people out of, not point and blame people for being in. If you're not in that situation remember it's got more to do with the family you were born into and the chances you've had along the way than anything you have done yourself.

Why should a family be allowed to claim more in benefits than the average working wage?
Because some families need more than the average working wage. If you have four kids and are living in private accommodation in central London, £26,000 isn't going to get you very far - whatever the 'average wage' is. And what do we do in situations where £26,000 is not enough? Where people can't get a job? Do we take children into care? Do we have compulsory sterilisation for poor people after they've had two kids? Do we put families in workhouses?

I don't doubt that there's a benefits trap, that some people find that they can get more on benefits than by working - generally because their earning potential is far below £26,000. The answer to the problem should be to increase people's earning potential, not reduce people's standard of living on benefits to the point that any wage is better. By Tory logic reducing benefits to £5 per head and a bottle of milk would stop anyone being in a benefits trap!

Breaking the link between need and benefit entitlement is wrong, and should be a far bigger story than the loss of child benefits to the better off. Unfortunately the poor are not particularly pretty and don't have much political muscle. Whilst I can imagine some back-peddling on child benefits, the £26,000 cap will probably stay.