Childless Benefits.

Thank you! And you, and you, and you, and you.....

I don’t usually try to be controversial. The fact that I am considered to be argumentative is primarily down to the fact that the people with whom I am conversing are predominantly wrong. In fact, in a “discussion” with a boss in the not so distant past, I saw his frustration in being wrong, manifest itself in a rather amusing lip twitch which I couldn’t help but stare at. This didn’t help him resolve the issue of his wrongness. In fact I think it may have magnified his ire, especially when I started to mimic it. Like two disproportionate Elvis’s (plural Elvi?) sneering at one another from non-confrontationally positioned office chairs. Incidentally, my dictionary has just told me that “confrontationally” is not a word. I disagree. The “Wrong-Boss” refused to accept that I was always right, but had to concede that in that particular occasion, I was. And on all other previous occasions.

The reason I am concerned with my confrontationality (Now THAT is a confrontational word for me and my dictionary) at this time, is this article. I have been considering writing it for some time but have always put it off as there are certain things that a man in my position cannot fully understand. Well, I say cannot understand, but I really mean “Wrong-Boss” probably couldn’t understand if he were to be in my position. Another reason is that it does carry a degree of serious political debate. I do not shy away from political debate, but consider that anyone taking the time to read this is probably doing so to escape the drudgery of real life. To then spring a politically charged read upon them seems a little unfair. I also realise that this subject matter might also harbour flaws that I haven’t considered. I am not saying that I am wrong though. I am just saying I might not be right.

Without rehashing all of the details about the various debates, there has been a good deal of media conversation recently about maternity leave, paternity leave and who should shoulder the costs and burdens of a child being brought into, and up in today’s society. In an ideal World, we would have the finances and structure in place that every child would receive equal opportunities from the moment they are conceived until the moment that they can provide and care for themselves. Unfortunately, this utopian World doesn’t exist. The one we have is one of strained finances, over population and, if the popular press are to be believed, swathes of citizens who consider the benefit system as a lifestyle choice. “Can’t afford a house or flat on your own? Make yourself into two people and the local authority will take care of the rest.” Despite Jeremy Kyle’s repeated advice that young people should “put a condom on the end of it”, he knows that if there was an incentive to do just that, he would lose half of his day time audience.

Now, I am not going to start dispensing dictum about who should do what and when, but what about a mechanism that would encourage people to apply an appropriate amount of consideration to possibly the most important decision a person can make? And how about if that incentive potentially saved the Government coffers enough money to reinstate MP expenses and a spare Millennium Dome? I even have a cherry for the top of this Nigella like masterpiece. What if it stopped the yapping of the Daily Mail AND had the potential to arrest an alarming trend for young pregnancy that the UK is gaining a reputation for? Not enough for you? How about slowing down the unsustainable population rises? Even though the number of births in England and Wales has actually dropped in the last couple of years, the 790,000 additional people to arrive in 2009 are pushing population numbers towards a feared 70 million in Britain.

At present, the benefits system allows for every oldest child the sum of £20.30 and for every child there after £13.40 to be collected by parents on a weekly basis. What if we just stopped that? And the “right” to a free house? I am not talking about simply cutting off the payments that parents currently may rely on, but phasing it out over a reasonable period time. It takes 9 months to make a baby, so any that are currently in production should be eligible for the status quo. We can also throw on an extra month for the reluctant debutants of the cast. So, in 10 months time, all new arrivals will no longer be eligible for this benefit. The ones that currently do get it, will continue to do so as currently agreed. As an addition, think of the bonanza month that Superdrug own brand folic acid and Primark lingerie will experience when the announcement is made and certain members of society scramble to not miss the subsidised baby boat.

Take a moment to think about the implications for anyone who is, for want of a better phrase, in danger of becoming pregnant. They know beforehand that the State will not be handing out cash to them for a decision that they have made. They will have to fund the upbringing themselves. I am no expert, but I bet it wouldn’t take long for word to get around that having a child is very hard work and very expensive. In turn, this stark reality might make every potential Mummy and Daddy think about if this is a path that they genuinely want to follow at that present moment in time. Imagine that! I am not saying that it doesn’t happen at the moment, but truly committed parents will not be put off, and (almost) every child will be the result of a genuine desire, a genuine want. It may be politically incorrect to say, but I have met many people whose only genuine desire was to have an excuse to join Mr Kyle on a daily basis while everyone else provided the cash for their Silk Cut and Nutella.

If a person decides to own a car, have a second home or fly to Vegas to watch cage fighting, then they have to save up and pay for it. Unless you get a benefit for that. Don’t get me started on that. I can’t make a decision upon the route that my life will take and then expect Mr and Mrs Taxpayer to fund that choice. Well, not since University tuition fees came in, and I am not touching that hot potato with anyone else’s hot potato glove. Why should deciding to create a person be any different? “Because if people are disinclined to have children, then we might miss out on a genius that could have been born but was put off until it can be afforded?” Don’t give me that! Out of the 790,000 children born in 2009, how many can the country not survive without? How many really are genius’s? I am not suggesting that these babies have no worth, far from it, but I reckon we would muscle through in their absence. How about asking how many of them were completely planned and completely securely provided for? Not 790,000, that’s for sure.

I do not pretend that there are not serious issues that would need to be dealt with if such a policy of “fund your own decisions” was to be instigated. There would still be pregnancies that, for one reason or another, are not planned and are not due to some contraceptive mishap. Any victim of a crime that resulted in a pregnancy could be provided for through a criminal compensation fund. Without wishing to be too cynical, I suspect that this may have some problems of its own once people start to look for funding loopholes, but greater minds than mine would be able to account for this. The same goes for the arguments of babies being born into poverty and neglect. We already have provisions for these situations. We may just have less babies and therefore less babies in these circumstances. Either way, the parents should still be responsible for funding the upkeep of their children.

Would this lead to a situation where people begin to wait to have kids until there are more physical complications? Possibly not. The medical suggestion is that 34 years of age is the “best” time for a woman to have a baby, which leaves ample opportunity for provision, saving and preparation. Not that I am suggesting that anyone is forced to wait any length of time before being allowed to procreate. I am merely suggesting that I am given the choice about whether I pay for the provision of a new person. So far I would chose not to.  I can’t afford it among other reasons yet my meagre salary goes to pay for other people’s children. And trust me, it is meagre.  And yes, I know I deserve more.

There is a possibility that this could be seen as some form of social engineering, in that the poor are negatively incentivised to not have children while the wealthy are free to sire as many cash gobbling plumb filled mouths as their loins can manage. And in a way, it could be true. While I am the first to stand up and bang my working class drum about an honest day’s work and wealth being no measure of worth, there is already a model that has proven successful over a longer demonstration period than could be replicated in any laboratory. Nature has seen to it that those able to provide, see their DNA carried forth and multiplied. This may sound rather elitist, but I didn’t make the rules. Either God did, or one of Stephen Hawking’s mates. It is just the way it always has been. And it works. And let’s face it, £20.30 every week isn’t going to be make or break in every case.  In some it may be.  I accept that.

Should the public at large be expected to contribute to each and every child that is born, regardless of the preparation and ability of the child’s own parents to provide a safe and healthy upbringing? I genuinely cannot see how this is the default position. It is like that moment when smelly Bob from accounts has decided to retire and the collection tin weaves its way around the office. I don’t work with smelly Bob and I don’t particularly like him. I don’t think it should be expected that I fund his carriage clock. There are times when our cash should be used to fund the decisions made by others without our explicit consent. To incarcerate a criminal. To save a persons life. But because someone decided to have a family? I can’t say I agree.

Without crunching the figures, I can’t tell you how much this idea could save the tax payer. What do we do with the cash? We could pay off some of the national deficit. We could increase the minimum wage. We could grease FIFA palms until we get a World Cup. We could even offer the saved £20.30’s and £13.40’s as an incentive to young people NOT to have children. Now there’s a thought.

I daresay I have overlooked some points that people may wish to bring to my attention. It is easy to spout an opinion when you sit outside of the circumstances and cannot see the issues held within.

I hope that no one is offended by anything here. Even Smelly Bob from accounts.  I will say this only once.  I am not always right.  Unless you are “Wrong-Boss”.  In that case, I am.  Always.

32 thoughts on “Childless Benefits.

  1. Coming late to this one, off Foxy’s blog – did you read this damning article about the high levels of child abuse in America, which seem to be heavily correlated to (and I would argue, directly caused by) the fact so many parents out there are plunged into poverty by having children? Highly recommended:

    • Hi Tootsie!

      Thanks for having a read from the link. I hadn’t seen that article but it does seem to make sense of the appalling numbers. Poverty is the key to all of these issues and we, as society, are left with a tricky balance that has been mentioned in other comments on here. Do we restrict accessible cash to would be parents to disuade them from having children that they can’t afford, or do we open the wallet to provide all the care that children need? As Ruth mentioned, we risk a situation where the rich can procreate whenever the urge takes them and the poor can’t afford the consequences. Elitest? Maybe. And we all know that wealth does not equal worth or entitlement. But we need to draw a line and the most sensible line, to me anyway, is to continue to allow people to make their decisions but make it abundantly clear they they must live with, and fund, the outcome. Will we end up like Texas? It is a risk. The risk free answer isn’t to simply shrug our shoulders and keep forking out for perfectly lovely kids who, by chance, were born to parents that expect to sit on their backsides and reap the rewards. If the view of lots of children = free cash is removed, then maybe the perfectly lovely children that are cherished, planned and accounted for will thrive while the would be parents that merely want an excuse more than a job will be saved from being a means to an end.

      • Thanks for the reply! I don’t know if you saw my reply on Foxy’s blog, but I actually did wait, with the guy I met at 24, until my early 30’s to start a family because it gave me time to get established in my career: sadly, around the same time we grew apart a bit and he got a job offer that involved travelling a lot, and our relationship broke down afterwards – just as we were both financially totally secure, and he wanted kids too.

        I then spent my 30’s dating, none of which lasted too long, and from about 35 to be honest getting more and more panicked, and now I’m in my 40’s and realistically never going to be the mother I’d always, ALWAYS dreamed of being. And no, I don’t plan to foster, because I’m a normal person, not a saint who wants to work with damaged older kids…

        You mention in your article that “The medical suggestion is that 34 years of age is the “best” time for a woman to have a baby,” with great respect, this is factually completely incorrect, female fertility is at its peak in the early 20’s, and starts to drop rapidly from 35 onwards – and you mentioned that waiting until then “leaves ample opportunity for provision, saving and preparation” – but not, I must say, for relationship breakdowns, or any other hiccups, since by 36, 37, mention that you’re trying for a baby to any good GP and they WILL refer to things like “ovarian reserve” and “Down Syndrome” – or even just, “biological clock.”

        The point I’m trying to make is, I made my choices ten and twenty years ago thinking I was being, basically, the person you are suggesting the next generation becomes – and it bit me on the butt and has left me childless. There is no going back from this fact. I am also not the only person in my peer group, or even in my place of work, who has had the exact same sequence of events, and is now in her 40’s and frankly, regretful.

        I think finance, theories about “entitlement” and “scroungers” and so on are all well and good, but female fertility is a fact set in stone, as is the fact it gets harder to form stable relationships the older you get, with people (men, in my experience at least) being more likely to be wary, emotionally damaged, or divorced with kids already, and not looking to start another family.

        So while the taxpayer might save a bundle cutting all child benefits, the personal losses women will experience, and the effect on us all as we age and the population drops, are incalculable. I would trade my career and every penny in my savings & investments to go back to me, aged 25, and mention “have that baby now” – anyway that’s me done talking about this, but please do look up those stats on female fertility & age.

      • Hello again Tootsie.

        It is unfortunate that you have not had the family that you desired. The stats I used were researched and they were in reference to all aspects (financial included) and not just biological suitability. I don’t doubt your biological facts at all. I also understand your comment about decreasing population but would suggest that this would be an advantage. I suggest that the world is over populated as it is.

        I also ask you to re-read the article and the comments about cutting ALL child benefits. I don’t suggest this at all. Only child benefit (child allowance). I am sure there will be some people that would choose not to have children as a result. But should people who cannot manage without the tiny child benefit actually be considering a family in those circumstances? If I can’t afford something, then I go without until I can. As stated in the comments (I meant to put it into the main article) that a large portion of the savings made from the removal of CB should be put back into the benefits system to help those that are in need.

        I might not have the insight into the familial desire but I don’t think people “need” to have children. I don’t think everyone is entitled to have children and be free from the responsibility to fund that decision. I do think people who don’t have, or choose not to have children have the right to not pay for other people’s choices.

        Just my thoughts.

        Thanks again.

      • All very fair points – I think we do have different personal feelings on this regarding children, and whether we’d like/have liked to be parents, which may inform both our opinions as much, or more, than hard statistics alone.

        For me, the whole issue boils down to this: you wrote “If I can’t afford something, then I go without until I can” – for women, that’s usually at most a 17-year window, assuming leaving school at 18, and fertility declining around 35 – for men, and this is just biology, that window lasts a lot longer – a man in his 40’s trying to start a family and with the financial support behind him, is likely to be successful, a woman in that age group has biology to contend with.

        There’s also the issue I’ve experienced in the UK, that women in their 30’s dating tend to attract men into their 40’s, even 50’s, meaning even if the chaps are gung-ho to start a (usually, second) family, the men will be seniors with bus passes by the time the child is a teenager. I’m sure that’s lovely and can work, but the demographics there, also, just aren’t as favourable as they are for a younger woman, or to any man up to advanced age.

        But it’s that hot potato of the current political approach to benefits, young people, etc which bothers me: I at least made my own choices for better or worse, and I can’t imagine how much more distressed I’d be if those choices had been imposed upon me, effectively meaning that by the time I could afford to pay my child’s own way 100%, I was no longer able to.

        The insitution of pensions, for seniors, exists because the biology of aging (while now changing as people live longer and slightly healthier lives) is immutable – in my opinion, the biological facts of female fertility make childbearing a similarly immutable and age-related issue, rather than children being an aspirational object that can always be worked towards at some unspecified future point.

        Dan, if you have a heartfelt career or personal aspiration right now, imagine the irony if, by the time you could achieve it using only your own resources, it was completely shut to you, permanently, due to you aging – anyway sorry to go on, I think I’ve covered my point regarding age and so on, and I certainly do understand your POV here, without going all the way towards agreeing.

        I personally do feel child benefit could be means tested, but in a fairer way than the one they proposed which seems to hit working mums – I don’t think poverty alone is a reason not to reproduce however, and especially not in the unstable economy we have which gives few people absolute guaranteed security for 16, 18 years they’re actively responsible financially for a child.

      • Tootsie.

        I do have the career analogy going on. I have been a Firefighter for nearly a decade and I am now working in media. Not a place for 37 year olds to be starting out. So I can empathise, but it was my decision. I hold no one else responsible. As for the windows of fertile opportunity, These are the cards that humans are dealt. Are you suggesting that special allowances should be made for one sex in case their cards don’t suit them? There isn’t someone responsible for this. Like I said, I believe we are over populated already.

        Working mums wouldn’t be hit here either. If they are on a low wage then the benefits system would support them, as it does now. If they are not on a low wage then they wouldn’t need it. There would also have more cash available for top up benefits for low wage earners saved from stopping handing out child benefit indiscriminately.

      • PS I was just talking about this to a friend, and she made the following very good point:

        that an absolute income, that isn’t means tested and carries no stigma, aimed directly at the child, guarantees there is no disincentive on responsible parents whose financial situation may be sub-par – and that it’s possible, right now, that we’ve already seen responsible people putting off childbearing, some minority to that point of no return, for reasons that included financial concerns.

        Meanwhile, those who generally don’t give a damn will keep on popping out kids, and if that means increased poverty, they’ll deal with it as they did in 1800, 1400, and all over the world where there’s severe poverty still – various combinations of crime, violence to the child, infanticide, and so on.

        It’s an undesirable picture, and all of the alternatives – eugenic-style forced birth control & “licences to breed”, removing children at birth to be placed with “approved” parents etc, are grotesque verging on ridiculous.

        So that shoots down my last comment about means-testing… wonder if you have any comment on this? I do already personally know more middle-aged middle class childless women, in the demographic whose children (if they’d had them) would do well, and more unemployed or low-waged mums, than vice versa.

      • So we do nothing and keep the wallet open? Turning a blind eye won’t convince anyone to be more responsible. Eugenics is a very strong word to use and I think it is misplaced here.

        Spend a moment to think about the amount of financially well off and secure people with kids. Do they need £10/£20 to feed their child? I doubt it. Do they refuse or return the slush fund? I doubt it. I know many where the child benefit is popped into an account to pay for the child’s first car/year out/ holidays/first house. I don’t think it is intended for any of those. I think it is intended to ensure that kids eat and wear clothes. So let’s make sure there is enough for those that lack food and clothes and not make sure Bradley gets a brand new Subaru Impreza, shall we?

        Oh, and sorry to Bradley for dragging him into this. Nice wheels though kid!

      • Hiya,

        thanks for the replies! I’ll try and be a bit tidier this time:

        “So I can empathise, but it was my decision. I hold no one else responsible. As for the windows of fertile opportunity, These are the cards that humans are dealt.”

        Ah, but isn’t that the point – it was your decision, as I made mine (and, while I’ve shared something pretty personal on here, my life’s pretty damned good in other ways) – how would you feel if you were as absolutely barred from doing whatever, because of your age? Because your simple biology ruled it out?

        37 is late to start in the media, but you have had an interesting and (to most of us) admirable career path before, which must stand you in good stead, and it’s never too late – I mean, your fingers don’t rot off, or your critical thinking permanently shrivel, at 37, 39, 41, whatever.

        “Are you suggesting that special allowances should be made for one sex in case their cards don’t suit them?”

        It’s not to do with “suiting” them (us, women) like it’s a *choice*-based issue – for a start, no-one expects babies to be solely responsible for their care, because their age-group creates physical challenges which disbar them from doing the 9-to-5 in an office or call-centre somewhere.

        No-one expects frail seniors to work, no-one (no-one sane, at least) expects the severely cognitively disabled to be solely responsible for their own support, including boldily care and so on… womens’ fertility is affected by age, in a way that men’s simply isn’t – do you propose we overlook that, on the basis you think we need to depopulate, or in the name of some kind of political equality – or do you think that for those people who wish to have kids in the next few decades, we get real, and address the fact a 20-something woman is less likely to have the kind of secure income that a 40-something woman has?

        And that it’s vice versa when it comes to fertility?

        And then look to ways to address this, instead of leaving increasing amounts of educated women battling with IVF and the whole business when they’re into their late 30’s? (I didn’t do that but know plenty who have.)

        “So we do nothing and keep the wallet open?”

        Well, there is approximately £1.85 to £3.10 BILLION sloshing about in that wallet, in unclaimed housing benefits alone, by the govt’s own figures released in Feb 2012 – so I think the notion that all these people have their hand in the public purse and are draining it dry is a massive overstatement.

        The money saved by cutting child benefit, which is a universal benefit, would presumably be re-awarded to claimants in need, and from the way the current system works would also miss many households who are eligible, in need, and yet haven’t claimed. (I could give you an actual story on how that happens and how it’s not because the claimant isn’t in need, but I’m trying to not get too anecdotal here.)

        But there is an estimated ( £16 billion in means-tested benefits and tax credits that currently goes unclaimed every year. So, public purse – not exactly being bled dry by every needy person out there.

        “Turning a blind eye won’t convince anyone to be more responsible. Eugenics is a very strong word to use and I think it is misplaced here.”

        Yes, as I said, “grotesque verging on ridiculous” – nonethless, if it’s as simple as “poor people should not have kids” we do start opening that can of worms.

        But, I must admit I’m getting confused about your message now – sure, you have a baseline in which you think less breeding is better, that’s your POV and I can understand it 100% without entirely agreeing, but on the mian topic, I’m not clear on whether you are saying that:

        1. no woman should allow a full term pregnancy unless she is totally able to financially support her own child, including in the event of a marriage/relationship breakdown;

        2. any woman should be granted state aid for her child, in the event of need caused by any situation, BUT that child benefit as a universal payment is mispaid to wealthy people who do not need it.

        Those are the two options that spring to mind, I can’t make out now which one you’re plumping for? (btw I am enjoying this debate, I hope nothing I’m saying here is coming across as all internet snark, or any of that old nonsense!)

        Anyway hope you’re having a good weekend, appreciate the convo!

      • There is a third option to what angle I may be coming from.

        3) make all people think about contraception more seriously because they will have to shoulder the burden of their choices. That is basically it.

        Remember that we are not talking about a huge sum individually, so no one will be THAT much worse off. And the addition to low income benefits will ensure we catch those that are genuinely in need.

        I honestly do feel for people who don’t or can’t have kids if they want them. I am also not religious at all. However, I do get close to a fatalistic view, while not believing in fate. What happens is what happens. And what doesn’t. I am torn on whether we should be tinkering with the biology of that.

        Trust me, for the sums of money we are talking, anyone who really does desire a baby will have one and will probably have been urged to make adequate plans for that. Those that don’t actually want a baby will be urged (financially or otherwise) to be more responsible. That’s it really.

        I am sure everyone can come up with anecdotes that might show a loophole or how someone will “struggle” if a plan like this came to pass. Same with proving what isn’t claimed. But it really comes down to public funds paid out…… Are they needed? Is there a better way to do it? I think there has to be than blanket paying. Some will claim that they will be destitute without it. But would they REALLY stuggle? Honestly? Even if they knew the rules beforehand? £20 for the first child? Even with redistribution of money saved to those on such a low income?

        Don’t look too deep. I am not making suggestions with the aim to upset, starve or become elitest. I think I am just trying to find a better way to kill two birds with one stone. Check the coffers and promote wise decision making.

        I genuinely appreciate the time you have spent looking a my blog Toots! And for the input. It has been an Olympic discussion. Oh no… Don’t get me started on the olympics……. 😉

  2. Whilst I agree with some of what you have said, there is one massive flaw – in my opinion.
    So, mummy and daddy have carefully thought out and planned for baby. They’ve calculated down to the penny, they’ve painted the nursery in the obligatory pastel shades, Mamas and Papas have been cleared of every ‘Millie and Boris’ product and the Bugaboo sits in the hall anxiously awaiting the arrival of this planned for child.
    PFC is born and all is rosey, for a few weeks, then without warning mummy changes. She’s anxious, she can’t eat or sleep and she cries, a lot. But worst of all, she hates Daddy. Poor desperate Daddy is stuck in a perpetual nightmare, lost in a world of confusion – who is this woman, and what has she done with my wife?
    50-70% of new mums will experience baby blues and 10%-15% will suffer serious Post Natal Depression so severe it reqiures treatment(source:NCT). That is 79,000 of the 790,000 new mums in your quoted 2009. Of these women, 60% will suffer a relationship breakdown, that’s 47,400 of 2009’s mums. PTC is now living in a ‘broken home’.
    Of course, these figures are theoretical, if your idea was to be successful, that number would be reduced.
    So what happens to these children? They’ve been born in an age of ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t have it’.
    Daddy will be required by law to pay 15% of his take home pay, so for an average earner that is approx £100 per week. Mummy isn’t well enough to work so suddenly PTC goes from living comfortably, to being plunged into a world of poverty.
    Do they not deserve any assistance with housing and financial help? Or should they go to bed hungry , cold and at increased risk of abuse from an unwell mother, whose depression has been compounded by the stress of worrying about money(source: NSPCC/MIND)
    At this stage this mother would need to engage the services of social workers, health visitors and mental health nurses, amongst others, at an enormous cost to the tax payer.
    So do we want to more funds to bribe FIFA or do we want to protect children from poverty and harm?
    This is just my opinion, and again, I agree in theory with what you have said, but where do you draw the line when it comes to benefits? It drives me insane when people abuse our benefits system and I can clearly see that is it this particular group in society that you are referring to. I just think that such a policy would adversely affect people in genuine need of assistance.

    • Really like your points Keeley. And as the article says, both parents are responsible for the choice that they made and the support therein required. Even if one parent doesn’t actually see or reside with the child. The systems are already in place for this, but may need to be updated. It doesn’t change the point that people can currently have a child because they want one, whether they can afford one or not.

  3. I’m a bit confused. You’re clearly against Child Benefit – you also seem to be against accounting for children in Housing Benefit claims, though quite what you’re proposing as an alternative escapes me – that families on housing benefit should all share a bedsit, as if the children weren’t born?

    You also don’t mention the other welfare state costs of children. What about school? That’s terribly expensive. In fact, that would make a much more positive impact on your tax bill than scrapping CB, which is (currently, at least) a universal benefit, and therefore stonkingly cheap to administer – all you have to do to get it is prove you have a child, there’s no expensive means testing or qualification criteria. On that basis, I personally lean towards the Green Party’s Citizen’s Income ( – cheap to administer, and freeing up people who current invest their resources into maximising their benefits income, to be better off in work – which they may well perceive to be unlikely, currently (and they’re probably right).

    Plus, it would benefit you, as an underpaid, hard-working individual, by allowing you to cover the basic costs of living BEFORE you start earning, making your salary essentially disposable income. Maybe it would free you up to write for a living?

    The genius of it, as far as I can see, is that people wouldn’t just quit work in vast numbers, because it trades on the innate greed of the human race. I’m not working to live, I’m working to top up my income for the bigger house/car/holiday. There’s no cost to taking a job, and then dropping it because it didn’t work out – I don’t lose weeks and weeks of benefit trying to set the system up again, because my childcare arrangements failed. So I can afford to take risks on taking a job, and may end up in work MORE as a result.

    Incidentally, as a Child Benefit claimant, I can tell you that it is, just about, enough to feed and clothe a child – just, if you’re careful. It doesn’t cover the cost of Tinkertop’s ballet lessons, or Tarquin’s French tutor, and it doesn’t even put anything towards the cost of a house with an extra bedroom, but it does keep body and soul together, if necessary.

    I think you either have to see children as vulnerable members of our society, to whom we have collective responsibility, or you have to say they’re not, and scrap it all. CB, tax credits, education, health visitor services, immunisations, the lot. But if you do that, you run the risk of making the already-over-stretched social care system collapse under the strain, and keeping a child in care costs tens of thousands a year – hundreds, in some cases. Surely it would be much cheaper, to say nothing of better for the child and its family, if we can offer them £20 a week (a little over £1000 a year), which allows them to stay together?

    • Hi Ruth.

      I mentioned housing as an after thought and the rest of the writing is solely based on CB. I do see children as a vulnerable member of society and also see that we should try to prevent them from suffering. I said nothing about the other costs to the State from provision of child services. Simply that people should chose carefully. I have chosen carefully to not have a child as I cannot afford to raise one, among other reasons.

      • On Child Benefit alone, then, I would say that the relative administrative efficiency of a universal benefit probably trumps any means-tested alternative, in terms of what it costs you, the childless tax-payer. Essentially, that’s why it’s lasted so long, and why the government’s proposals for changing it were such a shambles – if they means test it properly, it’ll be no cheaper, and if they carry on with this business of “if one partner is on 40% tax, you don’t get it” it becomes grossly unfair, with some families with CB earning nearly twice as much as other families without.

        I’ve just glanced at the Job Seekers and Income Support info, and there isn’t much concession for the existence of children – it seems to be assuming that that’s what CB is for. You could scrap CB altogether, and replace it with a child component to other benefits, but that wouldn’t meet your goal of dissuading poor people from having children.

        I’m not sure you CAN adequately financially dissuade poor people from having children (even if we assume that would work), without removing the safety net for the children themselves. You’re stuck between a rock and hard place.

      • I am not suggesting a means tested alternative. Unless it is the parents means testing themselves, and should that be the correct way?

        After all, I have the “right” to buy a Ferrari, but I don’t have the funds and therefore I won’t buy one.

      • Then what do you do about the family on benefits who can’t afford to feed the children they (arguably inadvisedly) had? Either you feed the children, or you let them starve. Pre-welfare state, they starved. But if we have a collective responsibility to the vulnerable, we can’t do that. But if we DON’T do that, then parents (prospective parents?) will know that we are offering something to support their children.

        A rock and a hard place.

      • Completely true. What do you do? Does that mean that you shouldn’t try and solve the problem and keep putting your hand in your pocket? Because you know that while the pocket is open, people will be trying to get their hands in.

        Would it actually come to starvation and suffering? The money saved can be used to ensure that bad parents that allow their children to suffer are guided away from such behaviour?

        Just a thought.

      • Here is a thought.

        If we follow this idea and remove the child benefit payment in 10 months time, the people who chose to have a baby will know what they are and are not entitled to from the word go. The money saved (I am no maths expert but a quick calculation shows that this is millions every week for every age bracket 1-16) could be put into the unemployment benefit system and increasing the minimum wage. That way, the cash goes directly to those that need it and not to those that don’t.

        e.g. for the sake of easy maths, let’s say that CB is £10 per week and 700,000 babies are born every year. That is very conservative. it is also 7 million pounds a week. Multiply that by 16 (The number of years that CB is payable and therefore paid out each week…..I could be wrong on that) and you have 112 million. A week. multiply that by 52 weeks and you have a mind boggling sum.

        Surely this can be better directed than blanket giving it to everyone regardless of whether they need it or not?

        My maths is shocking and I am work, so forgive me if I have made a fool of myself in this!

      • That’s why I brought up the (admittedly slightly left-field) Citizen’s Income. I don’t believe in carrots and sticks, not least because they don’t really work.

        There are endless projects being funded by government to try to make working class parents “more like us”, and the vast majority of them make no obvious difference. Poverty is a trap that is difficult to escape, and it affects every part of a person’s life, and their choices. If you take away the stigma of benefits (because we all get them), and take away the potential to be worse off in work (which is a real problem, and locks people in the “have a baby to get a house” mindset), then there is no reason for people to have children they can’t afford. Because a) they can afford them, and b) there is no longer a material benefit to having them. The only reason to have them is because you want them, which is the same reason everyone else has them.

  4. I agree, really. At least in theory. The government shouldn’t pay people who have kids. But a tax-break definitely helps families. I don’t agree with child-care vouchers or anything ‘extra’, but to let a family pay slightly less tax and keep more of their money to raise a kid is ok.
    However, the new rules allow incomes to be split, allow BOTH parents to claim TX-credit for the same children. That’s wrong. If you’re going to make it income-based, it should be based on the total income of the household.
    No one can ‘afford’ a kid if they try to plan ahead. And anyone who is reliant upon the £20/week to support their kid should make sure they aren’t just throwing £20/week into the pockets of the tabacco and alcohol companies. Some people do need it, but I think a lot who complain can be fine without it.

  5. Dan, I mentioned in my Tweet to you last night that we are just animals. That’s always the starting point for my thinking about anything to do with the human race. Strip back all our technological advances, have we really ‘advanced’? In a lot of ways, no. I imagine that any adult reading this thinks about sex pretty regularly – possibly for most reading this it is high up on the agenda. That’s because we’re just animals. Here to procreate and perpetuate… for reasons as yet unknown. It is a drive – a basic instinct. So would your proposals deter people from having sex? I strongly suspect not. When couples become pregnant, unless it’s been planned with military precision (almost impossible), the end game of children, and more specifically *parenting* isn’t really at the forefront of their thinking. I do not agree that it’s about ‘taxpayers funding other people’s choices’, it’s about giving children  chances, giving parents incentives to stick at the job. You may not have considered that, actually, raising kids is crazy hard work – not a fluffy choice, like buying a kitten or puppy – and look what happens to kittens and puppies sometimes when the reality of caring for them doesn’t match up to the idea. Maybe if the person dumping a dog at the side of the road might think twice about it if they had some external recognition that their owning and caring for it was a good thing?

    As with most things, Education is the only way to address the issues that you raise, in my opinion.

    Such a huge subject, I could go on and on, but will leave it there, for now.

    • Also, yes, what he said. Expecting poorer people to suppress what is a genetic urge, while the rest of us get on with procreating is not only bordering on eugenics, which I would have a big problem with by itself, but also, very unlikely to work. Poor people have always had children. Stopping their benefits won’t prevent them, it’ll just make the children poorer.

      • (Eek, I’m a she). Thanks – finance, politics, etc. etc. are all man-made things, not wise to attempt to control the forces of nature with them.

      • I don’t think I am trying to control the forces of nature. No one is suggesting that people should not be able to have sex. Nor am I saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to have babies. I am simply saying that people should be allowed to choose based upon their circumstances. Something that should already happen but I am not sure it does in all examples.

        The flaw that I can see is when parents split up or those circumstances change leaving less ability to provide.

      • Fair points. But should society just shrug its shoulders and not try and gain some social responsibility from would be parents and not just to provide?

    • Thanks for the comments, really appreciate them.

      I do state that having and looking after a child is far from a fluffy option.

      No system is perfect and there will always be exceptions and people who suffer as a consequence. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be looked at.

      As for animal instinct, I couldn’t agree more. I know exactly what you are saying, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility of the people involved. A blanket “The Government will foot some of the bill” doesn’t encourage responsible behaviour. Maybe knowing that the Government won’t foot the bill will.

    • Hello.
      I am not suggesting there should be no maternity, paternity or anything other than the child benefit (or child allowance in my day). Child care vouchers probably would fall under the same category as this. I am no expert on these matters, but my suggestion is something that has always stood out for me.

      Think about the rough figures. Not every child born in 2009 will be a first child and attract £20.30 per week, but some will. For ease of my rudimentary maths, let’s just say each child gets £10 per week.

      790,000 x £10=£7,900,000. per week. And that is just for 1 years worth of children. There are the 2year olds unto the 16 year olds. Per week.

      I think maternity and paternity leave is important but it still comes under the heading of choice.

      I was not suggesting that we should lose these, but maybe it is worth looking at. Would you get “leave” after electing to have a cosmetic procedure done or would you have to take annual holidays?

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