Archive for October 8th, 2010

Every dog in the street knows that expenditure has to be shaved and shaved till the bony bits show through, but what is happening in the UK with reforming the administration of child benefit is alarming. The entitlement to child benefit is to be taken from the families of earners up to a threshold. There’s no joint assessment – so families with a single earner of more than £44K will lose the child benefit, though couples on a joint income of over £80,000 will keep it.

I”m not saying child benefit shouldn’t be means tested – in fact in principle I agree that it should. I’m not amused by those high earners who take their child benefit (“oh it just comes automatically” – no it doesn’t, you have to apply for it) and put it into a savings account so that when little Marjoram or Sinbad reaches 18 it adds up to a deposit on a flat, or travelling gap year at the State’s expense.

But I do think that a woman being the wife of, or a child being the child of, someone who earns £45K doesn’t necessarily mean they can in practical terms go without their child benefit. Where the woman stays at home to look after the children and lives off her husband’s salary she is still likely not to have free access to money, and the child benefit is frequently a bridge to basics like food or clothes shopping. I’ve come across plenty of women who are allocated a less than adequate chunk of the monthly or weekly wage and have to make up the difference whatever way they can. It’s not exactly their dream world but that’s reality’s bite.

I don’t think the State should be signing the chit willy nilly. The child benefit system is not some sort of departmental golf trip, after all. Marjoram and Sinbad can do without it. A family with a single income of £44k and three children will feel the loss badly. And single parents and women whose husbands control the family cashflow will feel it too, as will their children. A woman running from an abusive relationship, let’s say, might well factor in her child benefit payments when wondering whether she can manage to escape at all.

There has to be a more tapered system, a better way of guarding the exchequer’s piddling pot of money. We all know we’re going to be hit over the head with a cosh come December. We’re braced. Child benefit cuts are likely to feature, but it’s two months away still, which is plenty of time to sit over a pint in Buswell’s and do some sums on the back of your fag packet, so I hope when it’s done it’s done carefully.

I know shag all about economics. I’d not only hate to be Minister for Finance, I’d be rubbish at it. But I know from what I see around me that this cut, when it comes, will hit vulnerable women – and those men who are at home and dependent on a spouse’s income – and children and I don’t like it.

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