Wednesday, 22 July 2015

What kind of government punishes poor children?

Why doesn’t the Government offer soft loans to impoverished parents to replace the benefits being cut? What kind of government, or even society, shows total disregard for its worst-off children?

The recently elected UK government has been relentlessly tough on the younger members of society while maintaining support for pensioners. There’s nothing too unexpected about that given their voters. But I find the proposed changes to child support, child tax credits and the extension of the household welfare cap to be particularly concerning.

There is a bizarre masochistic streak in our society at the moment, whether stoked by tabloids or TV shows such as Benefits Street, whereby there is a desire for suffering to be shared out. If this is where we are then I suppose it is democratic to see that through.

However, I don’t understand how any society could seek to hinder the lives and prospects of some of its poorer children. The complaint is presumably that some “feckless” parents have created significant expenses for their society and that the rest of society should not have to support them, or at least only to a limited extent.

However, if this was the only factor in play then I would suggest the obvious policy response is to give parents child-related benefits above a certain threshold in the form of a soft student-style loan rather than allow the children affected to go without. This is exactly what the government has proposed in switching from maintenance grants for poorer students to loans.

Why not do the same for payments to poorer parents? Perhaps the proposed changes are actually intended to send a message? The intention could just be to bring about behavioural change and foster the responsibility that Tories prize. However, whose behaviour is it supposed to change?

It isn’t the children’s behaviour that needs to be changed—it is presumably that of their parents at some point in the past. Punishing some children now in the hope of reducing the number of children in need of help in the future seems particularly cruel. Furthermore, it is possible that the present and future parents whose choices are driving the desire for this action are unlikely to be influenced by cold calculation about the future benefits available for them and their children.

So perhaps the issue is just that the deficit has to be reduced and sadly this is the only way to do so. In terms of government income and expenditure, soft loans to poor parents to enable them to improve their children’s lives will have a relatively low prospect of repayment. But if the repayment threshold were set reasonably low then once the children were grown up some of the money could be recouped.

However, deficit reduction isn’t the only priority for the government. George Osborne relaxed his deficit targets in coalition and has done so again in majority government. The government has now committed to maintaining or increasing defence spending. The deficit could also be cut by tax rises as well. A one-off wealth tax or the introduction of a Land Value Tax would be sensible ways to raise some extra cash without crashing the economy. The government doesn’t care THAT much about the deficit—it is just a reason wheeled out when necessary.

However we have got to this situation where so many people seem supportive of punitive changes to the welfare system I still find it hard to see why soft loans aren’t a more sensible option. Otherwise the aim is to visit the sins of the parents on the children, something I think it unacceptable. 

No comments:

Post a Comment