It was not until watching Channel4 News a few days ago that I realized that the Conservative MP, Louise Bagshawe – who took Corby for from Phil Hope by a gnat’s crotchet in May – was the same Louise Bagshawe whose chick-lit passes through my hands on most days at the bookshop.
The reason being was George Osbourne’s intention to abolish child benefit for families in which at least one partner was earning more than ~£45,000 per annum. Not only would an end to the universality of child benefit be at odds with both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos, but it also struck as being in opposition to traditional Conservative support for one breadwinner (naturally, the husband) whilst the home-maker (naturally, the wife): with this, a family with a sole breadwinner earning £60,000 per annum would loose benefits whilst one with both partners earning £40,000 per annum would retain it.
Bagshawe is a divorced mother of three, and in approval of such moves. She made the eminently honest and noble statement that she did not think she deserved or required child-benefit, either on her MP’s salary or on top of her book earnings, and never had claimed.
Good for her.
As far as I can tell, however, the idea of well-off earners (and that does not necessarily mean £45,000 per annum) claiming for child benefit in order to augment public school fees or foreign holidays is as misplaced as the idea of indolent, scruple-free fraudsters such as this yawning expanse of ego who considers defrauding the benefits system to be an achievement.
Although the proposals are unravelling faster than any military advance involving Harry Paget Flashman, Osbourne remains convinced that a noticeable number of families caught in the wrinkles which immediately were apparent is a price worth paying for the £1 billion they would be said to save.
Yes, remaining loyal to the universality of child benefit is, ultimately, ideological; but Osbourne is also speaking to his ideological position, so we should be even. If this Rubicon is crossed, there should be no reason why other state services should be scaled back leaving the affluent to pay for what they want and the basics be provided for the poor.
And, then, leaving the affluent becoming resentful at paying for services they do not use.
Louise Bagshawe, at least, recognizes the sense in her subsidizing child benefit for families on or below the median salary. There are those who do not.
I do not see anything wrong in principle about Jeremy Hunt’s statement today that anyone subsisting on state benefits should not consider this a license for procreation. I can think of several individuals in my town for whom that definitely applies, but I also can think of scores more for whom it does not: whatever the flaws in are a system which is now resulting in a generation being born to parents who had not seen a breadwinner in their household, I do not think the Conservatives (or Liberal Democrats) have the answer.
The Guardian carries today an article about Paloma, a single-mother living in a private accommodation in Queens Park (which the Guardian described as “Central London”; presumably in the same way that Thurso is near Inverness).
Paloma is, by accounts, in full-time employment but unable to find cheap and satisfactory social housing near to her place of work. Housing benefit is used to subsidize her £1,300 per month rent, and she states she cried when she found out that cuts would place their beyond her means.
I am in two minds about this. Whilst £1,300 per month is not only beyond the means of many individuals on the median salary, but also more than many full-time salaries, years and decades of under-investment in social housing has arguably caused situations like this.
And Paloma’s case should be more sympathetic than anecdotal and/or apocryphal tales of unemployed families with half a dozen children living in luxury accommodation.