Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child benefit blues

OK, before you all start thinking, "She's only mad because her husband earns over £44k and she's going to lose out on some money", the newly-announced Child Benefit cuts won't affect me directly.

But oh my Lord, am I hopping, spewing, mad!!!!!

Part of this is due to the fact that the cut will affect families where at least one parent earns £44k - but not families where both spouses work and each earn £80k. So, 'traditional' families or whatever we should call them, where one parent works and the other provides full-time childcare for their offspring, are more likely to lose out, even if it's not every family unit that is fortunate to rake in this amount of cash from one salary.

My own personal circumstances are biased - as a triple-qualified graduate professional, who was earning a good salary but chose to go the 'stay at home mum' route through choice, I wouldn't want my Child Benefit slashed - yet if the earning potential of both parents was shared and I chose someone else to look after my children, I could keep it (and we're talking £2,500 a year now with 3 kids.) And for a long time I thought that the middle classes/higher earners shouldn't be getting Child Benefit when they didn't need it. Ours goes on dancing and swimming lessons rather than shoes like mine did when I was young, for example. Yes, how middle-class. But as well as discriminating against families who have chosen one spouse to put most of their energies into earning money, and the other put most of their energies into full-time childcare, there's a wider, deeper problem here.

Child Benefit was introduced in 1945 to encourage the population to, well, populate, following the decimation of life during two World Wars, and was initially paid to people who had more than one child. It was termed the 'Family Allowance' - it was introduced to benefit larger families, to help them with the cost involved in bringing new life into the world. The subtext read - 'Having children is a good thing. We support it. We respect parents having more than one child. Whatever their income. We're incentivising child-rearing.'

Over the years though, with the increased use of contraception and reduction in the numbers of children in families, the rights of parents to have bigger families and be respected for this have been eroded. Child Benefit is now paid for the first child too, and you get substantially more for the first child as well (the rest clearly aren't worth as much, or, someone figured out that they are going to wear elder siblings' hand-me-downs.) In the United Kingdom, the noise, the clutter, the sheer silliness and physically intrusive spectacle that is family life continues to be frowned upon, especially when compared to the love that kids get in continental Europe, when each tiny person is valued and children are fussed over in every area of life. Yes, people do have large families, but they're not seen as the norm anymore, and if they can't or won't support themselves financially, people have a go. Some of this may be justified, but surely bringing new life into the world is a right, not a privilege; a universal event, not something to be sneered at.*

Prime Minister Cameron has been pushing a pro-family agenda and has a young family himself, so this whole shebang has actually shocked me on a political level too - the Tories will surely lose middle-class voters if they actually do get to go through with this. It certainly doesn't accord parents and children with the respect and love they deserve. It's bloody hard work, parenting - taking money away isn't about the finances, it's about what that money symbolises: that each new life is welcome in society, whatever your income bracket.

I went into a new delicatessen/cafe yesterday with (we discovered) no baby-changing facilities, so ended up wiping Becky's bum on my own mat on their bathroom floor (and resisted the temptation to hand them the bag with the dirty nappy in it). They'd completely failed to understand that some middle-class cappucino drinkers in their midst might have a young family that needs supporting practically, psychologically, and politically. Ditto the UK Government, I reckon. Sort it out, George Osbourne. Now.

*especially when you are pregnant and usher two young girls out of public toilets without washing their hands because they're being difficult (and you have anti-bacterial handwash in your handbag anyways.) You know who you are, Judgemental and Intefering in Whitby.

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