9 reasons to protect child benefit
"I'm not going to flannel you, I'm going to give it to you straight. I like the child benefit, I wouldn't change child benefit, I wouldn't means-test it, I don't think that is a good idea."
So said David Cameron in March 2010. But the Prime Minister is being urged to drop this read-my-lips pledge when his party draws up its manifesto in the coming months.
But here are nine good reasons why the PM shouldn't break his promise.
- He would be picking on children if he cut child benefit
Child benefit does what it says: it benefits children.The government's own analysis concludes that parents spend child benefit on their children and CPAG found the same thing when it polled parents two years ago. Families have already borne the brunt of cuts made in this parliament. It's not clear why child benefit should be prioritised for cuts above other areas of government spending.
- Child benefit has already been cut by almost 15% in five years
Child benefit has suffered already in this parliament. It has been frozen in cash terms or increased at below inflation rates every year of the coalition. By the end of this parliament we estimate it will have lost almost 15% of its real value.
- Parents are struggling with the rising cost of living
The cost of living for families with children is high and rising faster than benefits, average earnings or the minimum wage. CPAG and JRF’s flagship report ‘Cost of a Child’ shows that in 2013, child benefit covered 19% of the extra costs of meeting the basic needs of a child. If this is cut, parents will be more exposed than ever.
- By hurting families, cutting child benefit would fail the PM’s ‘family test’
In 2011, the Prime Minister said: “So: from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.
- And he would alienate women too
Child benefit is paid to the main carer in a family which more often than not is the mum. Women have told us again and again that this independent source of income is important to them. Cutting child benefit would hurt women, the very group that the PM is so keen to court.
- Child benefit helps working families
The wages parents receive don’t reflect their family size and child benefit helps working families cope with the added costs of raising children. As leading poverty experts have argued “A living wage based on average family needs is always going to mean that some workers will find it insufficient to meet their own and their family’s needs. So some workers will not in practice receive a ‘living wage’.” Child benefit helps correct for this.
- Child benefit is hugely popular
In his first Budget, in resisting cuts to Child Benefit, George Osborne said: “I know many working people feel that their child benefit is the one thing they get without asking from the state”. How true. Cutting child benefit for higher earners was deeply unpopular; further cuts are likely to prove so too.
- Cutting child benefit will hurt families with more children – an already poverty-prone group
The government’s new Child Poverty Strategy says: “Families with more children are at greater risk of being in poverty. More than a third of children in relative poverty live in families with three or more children (800,000). Children in larger families are almost two-thirds more likely to be in poverty than children in smaller families.” Tapering away child benefit for larger families can only increase poverty.
- It will cost the PM in the long run
Higher rates of child poverty cost. Independent analysis carried out in 2013 for CPAG estimates the cost to the UK of current levels of child poverty to be £29 billion a year. As child poverty increases, so too does this figure.
As David Cameron recognised just before the election, child benefit is an effective, popular and successful policy. Scaling it back further or allowing it to wither on the vine would be hugely damaging.
Tackling the deficit is not a maths problem – it’s about the choices we make and about the society in which we want to live. We should all choose child benefit.