There are many members of society I will shed a tear for as the ‘swingeing’ cuts Chancellor Osborne has promised kick into action, but stay at home mums married to rich husbands are not among them.
he coalition’s plans to withdraw child benefit from families which include at least one earner making more than £44,000 have caused a stink among the chattering classes.
You have to feel for these folk, many of whose biggest problem this year has been deciding where to go on holiday. They feel cheated by the people they assumed would always protect them, and that hurts.
And they didn’t see it coming. For the first few months of the new term things ran rather smoothly, with the main targets of Tory cutbacks as predicted; the young, the unemployed, the disabled, lower income families and single parents would be the main losers from raised VAT, reduced child tax credit, the abolition of the Child Trust Fund and stricter qualifying controls on benefits.
But then suddenly — the cruel, betraying blow. Osborne announced that a small amount of pain would have to be shouldered by middle class middle-income families. Had he gone mad? Didn’t he know most broadsheet newspapers are written by just such people?!
First off, let’s address the most obvious iniquity of this policy. Yes, it would have been fairer if Osborne could have found a way to consider the sum total of household earnings so that the theoretical couple earning less than £44,000 each but over £70,000 together could have been penalised in the same way.
But the truth, frustrating as it is, is that there is no manageable and cost-effective way of carrying out this kind of highly complex means-testing across the country.
Osborne had a choice — allow an unavoidable injustice to sabotage what will generally be a far more equitable new system, or just live with the imbalance. He, rightly, chose the latter — because it was the best achievable option on offer.
Of course, media outlets have since been jammed with parents of middle class families (or ‘decent’ and ‘hard-working’ families as they are so often referred to, as if lower income families are somehow indecent and lazy) who just can’t believe that they are being asked to contribute to the deficit payback in this manner. “We struggle our way through life too!” they cry. “We pay loads of taxes! That couple next door will be better off than us!”
Well, the truth is, no one in the UK is ‘struggling’ with a household income of £44,000. Struggle is praying one pair of wellies will see your kids through the winter because you can’t afford another pair of shoes.
It’s about choosing between Weetabix and porridge because you can’t have both. £44,000 might not make your family rich, but it makes it safe from serious financial harm, as well as healthier, better educated and far more luxury-accustomed than one getting by on £18,000.
But more to the point, when did we get so mean-spirited, so resentful of being asked to make a small sacrifice for the greater good? Why is it only palatable to lose a (relatively) tiny bit of free money every month to help the country climb out of a hole if you can be assured that the guy next door is suffering exactly the same loss?
I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but Osborne is right. It’s time for everyone — even decent hard-working families — to take a bite from reality.