Friday, 8 October 2010

The undeserving child

The recent announcements about the capping of child benefit and the slashing of allowances to dissuade benefit-scroungers- plus -sprogs has caused quite a lot of heat, and not surprisingly as it touches on several emotive areas. Many British people feel outrage at the idea of people who produce a large number of offspring and then expect "the tax payer" to fund them for doing absolutely nothing other than bringing up said offspring to be unruly and as unemployable as they are. At the same time, most of us are aware that many who turn up in the dole queue do not fit this stereotype, they are simply people who are willing to work and have lost a job. At the back of our minds is the thought, "what if that happened to me?" and there is nothing like smelling the fire in your own kitchen, particularly in times of hardship, to suddenly make us all hesitate...

Another image that should make us hesitate is that of the impoverished child. As has been pointed out, there is no such thing as an undeserving child. When poverty knocks, it is often children who are the victims, not just in lack of food and material goods, but potentially as those who bear the brunt of increased tension. When parents are under intolerable stress, children are more likely to be neglected or abused.

These are thoughts that tug at my heart strings in this economic climate. When I heard some of the pronouncements of the coalition goverment this morning on the radio, I got this vivid and chilling image of children going to school with no shoes, without having had a meal, or without a coat in winter. I know Thatcher spoke of Victorian values, but will we see a return to raggamuffins and workhouses? Moments later I heard of outrage about bonuses for bankers, and someone asked why there is not so much talk about the undeserving rich- perhaps this is because we feel that they are out of our reach? Like the parent who goes home and hits a child, we vent our spleen on those who are vulnerable and not insulated against our hatred and contempt?

This is emotive, arguably irrational stuff, I know -and I do not like the idea of benefit scroungers any more than any of the rest of us. But I do know that Christ was unequivocal on the need to care for the poor and not to hoard riches to ourselves and that he also said that it was better to have a millstone around our necks than cause a child to stumble.

I wonder what that might have to say to us today as we try to resolve these issues with wisdom, justice and humanity?


  1. The difficulty is that there is not one size fits all welfare system. I have a sneaking suspicion that this mooted policy of capping child benefit for those with large families is actually targeted towards immigrant, particularly Bangladeshi communities. I must confess to being shocked at how benefit culture has become part and parcel for a sizable MINORITY of immigrant communities in the East End. Lots of children, often more than one wife (legal in Bangladesh, but the second wife is not recognised as such in the UK) and not one working.

    One of the more tedious retorts one hears – usually from old people – concerning the benefits’ system, is “I’ve paid in all my life!”. But paid into what? If tomorrow, for some terrible reason, the government could no longer raise income from taxation how long do you think Britain, with its present rate of expenditure, could survive before it ran out of money? The answer is rather shocking: two weeks. All nations have debt, but Britain has lived beyond its means since the 1940s. The hope of the welfare state, as it was sold to Churchill during the war “was that the imposition of a comprehensive welfare state would benefit the economy because the population would be healthier, wealthier and more educated – the expectation was that the need for welfare provision would decrease as its effects permeated through the population” (from draft chapter 2 of my current thesis). However this did not happen. In 1948 4% of the population were in receipt of some kind of benefit – by 1993 this had risen to 20% (now it is probably higher, but I don’t have stats to hand). Instead the welfare state has led to dependency and lack of motivation to get on in life. This has to change or else the UK will just decline until it becomes economically and culturally dead – and then there will be NO benefit system.

    Alas, you can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg and hence if there is a cap on welfare payments, so that it is not possible to ‘earn’ more on benefits than the average yearly household income, then so be it. Children will suffer! But I have seen much suffering from children socialised into benefit and dependence culture. Suffering for the children – who grow into adults without ambition, self-reliance or social skills to be productive members of society; and suffering for society, that has to follow behind these ‘children’ with a mob and bucket. It is also interesting to note that there is research that suggests the younger children from a large family are often less numerate and literate – because they have often had more social contact with their older siblings, who take on caring roles than with parents.

    I’m afraid I am all for capping benefits – and moreover the ending of free care for the elderly (if you’re window in a house worth £250K and have to go into care why shouldn’t the cost of your care be met, in part at least, from the sale of your house! Similarly, if you are in receipt of Attendance Allowance, why shouldn’t you use the money the government pays “to help with the cost of your care” to (surprise, surprise) pay for the cost of your care?); in addition to requiring those in receipt of disability living allowance to providing a return each year on how they have used to money to meet their ‘care’ needs.

    I am afraid sometimes governments have to be brutal and I hope this present government does what is required. Yes there will be causalities, but in the long run I think we will all benefit.

    That’s my rant over!



  2. Hi Stephen,
    Yes, I do understand that there is an "alternative view", and I would like to see needless dependency on welfare reduced. But I think we see the heart of the problem in your first comment about it being impossible to get a "one size fits all" system. And the more we try to create a system that differentiates between the "deserving and undeserving poor", the more expensive the administration of that becomes. In short, it is a minefield. I am not at all convinced that we will all benefit in the long run; I think it might go disastrously wrong and damage Britain's prospects for recovery. I also have quite serious issues with children being the eggs that are broken to make the omelette!

    I do find the debate fascinating, (albeit rather depressing), it touches on so many ideas and attitudes around class, politics,eugenics, scapegoating, racism. I know you've blogged on it before, and I am sure your role as a social worker has given you insights - although it is "live" issue for someone in my family as well.

    I often notice that people are fine with others losing benefits, but not themselves. An acquaintance of mine has a well paid job and bitterly bemoans the fact that she will probably lose child benefit - which she says they can't afford to lose. I suspect she could afford to lose it! Kev and I will NOT lose child benefit, as my income is under the threshold, but we certainly don't rely on it for the basics, although we have put it into savings to help the boys possibly go to university (although I worry that that is going to become the preserve of the wealthy - and in what way does that allow for equality of opportunity?)

    By all means try to break the stranglehold of dependency, although it is a tall order, but what about those undeserving rich? Tax fraud costs the country 1.5 billion - and tax avoidance probably more - but it can be costly to detect and prosecute those involved. What about regulating the bankers who contributed to the problems we have in the first place, but still seem to get large bonuses?