Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Is George Osborne squeezing the rich to help poor families? No!

I posted earlier this year in defence of universal Child Benefit, when gossip was spreading that it could come under attack. I won't repeat here the arguments I made there in defence of universality, but I do want to make a few points about the specific policy that the Tories have just announced - to remove Child Benefit from families where one person earns more than £44k.

In doing so, I want to tackle the aspect that I find particularly annoying - the Tories' pretence that this is a pro-working-class policy, which will no doubt find cheerleaders in the tabloids and may even impair the ability of some on the 'left' to defend universal Child Benefit against this attack.

Despite its pretensions at squeezing the rich, George Osborne's announcement leaves rich people without kids well alone while those with kids have money taken from them. No-one is losing money for being rich, but for having kids.

There is a serious ideological point here about society's attitude to, and responsibility for, children. The attack on Child Benefit is based on an assumption that children are the private indulgence of their parents rather than the responsibility of society in general. Sometimes, it feels like people think that "the taxpayer" is being asked to pay towards people's cars or butlers, not towards their children.

Moreover, earning £44k and bit most definitely does NOT make you "rich". It may be well above the average wage, but it is the wage of, for example, some skilled manual workers. If you are one of these and, say, you live in London bringing up three kids on your own or with a partner on much lower earnings, then you may get by, but you hardly live the life of Riley.

The rich-poor divide is not between people on £25k and people on £45k, but between people on £25k and people on £100k+ and a stash of wealth. Let's target our anger against the genuine rich, not on working families who might earn more than other working families, but who certainly do not share in the full fruits of their labour, and are definitely not "rich".

Even so, the way to deal with the genuinely rich is not to take away their child benefit, but to tax them til the pips squeak, or better still, to legislate a maximum wage.

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