Most Sunday mornings my wife and I enjoy a bit of a lie-in bed, but no-one wants to know about that! However, this morning her son is involved in a ju-jitsu grading to we are all up early. Or rather I am in bed watching the Sunday morning political programme on the BBC; The Andrew Marr Show. The show starts off with a review of the morning papers by invited guests, contains a couple of interviews with some contemporary big hitters, a feature on the actor who plays Q in Skyfall and some other bits and pieces. One of the main topics of discussion today has been prompted by the new Archbishop Of Canterbury who has criticised the government’s proposed benefits reforms as he feels they will hit the poorest families with children already living below the poverty line. The government will argue the cuts are necessary because we have a bloated benefits bill in the UK which discourages people to get into work as they are not much better off than if they are sitting at home all day receiving free money. So who is right?
In my job I see people regularly applying for housing and council tax benefit, some are serial benefits claimants, some are those who have recently lost jobs and need the safety net of benefit to fall on, some are elderly people with no savings and just the state pension to keep them going and others are single parents of choice with children who don’t work but need their rent paying. Most people get means tested benefits based upon their needs and children can mean the addition of tax credits so they can be in receipt a couple of hundred £s a week plus another £115+ depending on the size of their family in housing benefit to pay their rent plus money towards their council tax of up to 100% of their bill. So the government will ask, where is the incentive for these people to give that up and go to work and I think it is a question worth asking. The archbishop on the other hand says that such benefit cuts will result in children suffering and receiving even less. On the Marr show this morning, the chairman of charity Save The Children argued that child poverty in the UK is often the poverty of love and education from parents and anyone watching the recent 999 programme about residents in the town of Blackpool will realise there are scores of disfunctional families in the UK who clearly have few if any parenting skills, life skills and no prospects of wanting a job. (Incidentally, I blame the policies of the Thatcher era for this problem in our society). So he believes that there is money for families in this country and is in favour of the government’s Universal Credit proposals which has many benefits reforms as well as putting them all into a single basket of one ‘universal’ benefit but the main objective of the policies is to ensure it incentivise people to get work and rewards people in work rather than on benefits.
Former Labour leader Tony Blair at the start of his Premiership asked his then welfare supremo Frank Field to think the unthinkable to come up with a reform of benefits – he did, he got the sack and nothing was done under a Labour government which remained in power for 13 years. This is a pity because a left leaning Labour government would no doubt have introduced reforms less punitive than the Conservative welfare reformer Iain Duncan-Smith has introduced. But we are where we are with a Conservative led coalition government and the benefits reforms are already on their way in with more being introduced on April 1st and universal credit coming in in October 2013.
Since Thatcher decimated communities and British industry thus removing the security of work and affluence for millions in the 1980s successive leaders seemed to offer recompense to to them by creating a comfortable welfare system to assuage the projects of redundancy and unemployment. Unfortunately this has created a change in our society where too many people have found comfort in unemployment and now see it as a lifestyle choice and if you have children the additional benefits and elevation in the social housing queue mean that many children are not conceived in love but as a means of financial progression and it is here where I agree with the Save The Children man. But what of the children in these families who will see a cut in their family incomes and less money to have spent on them. Unfortunately the policies of the past 30 years have created the situation I described with many choosing the benefits option over the work option -for benefits paid for by the working tax payer and they need to change to change and improve our society. It is hard to argue for changes which sees innocent children suffer more than perhaps they already are but I once saw one Tory tweet that adults should take responsibility for conceiving children and be aware that they will have a responsibility to support them themselves and not rely on the state to pay for their upbringing. This seems right but again we already have children in these families who will see household income cut.
The answer is that these benefit reforms should be introduced but the most vulnerable in our society should be protected from them. Families with children should not have their benefits cut until all children born before April 1st 2013 reach the age of 12. This will give time for families with children to adjust without a cut in their household income and young adults will realise that they will face the cuts and think carefully about family planning before embarking on creating a human life. In all things there is a compromise and a balance. Do not punish children born now, they are innocent and have been born into the families they find themselves through no fault of their own. But in future adults must take responsibility for their own children in the knowledge of what support they will receive from the state or if they get a job and can support their family with the added financial income the reforms will bring through being in work.