Why losing child benefit is not so beneficial

The Tory-led government, as part of its mandate to cut welfare expenditure by a further £10 billion, intends to limit the reach of Child Benefit.  On January 7 next year, many moderate income families will lose their Child Benefit payments.  Those earning salaries between £50 – £60,000 will lose payments on a sliding scale, while those earning over £60,000 will lose it all together.  What makes this policy so fraught is that it will not apply to ‘household’ income, but rather the income of individual parents or caregivers.  In other words, if both parents work and individually come in just under £50,000 each, the family will, in all likelihood, retain full access to their benefit money.  While single income families earning over £50,000 are likely to lose at least some of it.

Aside from continuing along the trajectory of ‘squeezing the middle,’ as this government is wont to do, proposed changes to the child benefit scheme do err on the side of disadvantaging stay-at-home mothers. Why implement a mansion tax or a 50p tax when you can extract cash from those idle mothers who do nothing but eat cake and sip lattes all day?  This policy tacitly demonises mothers (and fathers) who ‘elect’ not to work, while rewarding those who do – as if being a stay-at-home parent is always a completely voluntary move.

In our house we have come to rely considerably on our child benefit payments, particularly to purchase clothes, books and other essential child-related equipment, such as a car seat for our now two-year-old daughter.  My partner’s salary is just over £50,000 – the result of working two jobs and six days a week.  I am effectively a stay-at-home mother who draws a very modest salary from freelance work I do from home (mostly in the evenings).  We rent privately in London as we do not have the deposit to buy so our monthly outgoings are relatively high.  We rarely are able to save and have little disposable income but our lifestyle is comfortable, if underpinned by a certain frugality.

If we were to lose our child benefit we would of course adapt – we would have to.  But if a cut in this area does indeed need to occur, then why not at least make it apply evenly? Transform it into a safety net for low-income earners with a blanket threshold that refers to general ‘household’ income and not the individual earnings of each parent.  What seems inequitable is that if I were to more than quadruple my earnings and my partner drop his ever-so-slightly, we would effectively double our household income while retaining our child benefit.  This seems a perversion of what benefit schemes are characteristically supposed to do, which is to bridge the gap between income disparities.

Change to the Child Benefit Scheme is simply another asymmetrical initiative by a government brutally out of touch with the realities experienced by the majority of families in the UK; a government that espouses an insulting rhetoric of us ‘all being in this together’ while distributing the burden of austerity most unfairly.

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