Expecting responsibility from welfare claimants? Cue hysteria!
Published in: Daily Mail
As predictable as the first frosts of autumn, there are shrieks of rage over the proposal to restrict Child Benefit payments to the first two children in a family.
On the Left, it is axiomatic that all welfare recipients are virtuous, honest and decent, while all who want to limit benefits are cruel, callous and heartless.
Such insults are being hurled at the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith — a man whose patent decency, compassion and deep concern for the plight of the poor should make such brainless barbs stick in his assailants’ throats.
The cause of the uproar was a speech Mr Duncan Smith made last week, in which he observed that the benefits system was supporting ‘dysfunctional’ and destructive behaviour.
Accordingly, he questioned whether it was acceptable that families on benefits should continue to receive ‘never-ending amounts of money’ for every child they had, while working families often couldn’t afford to have more children.
Cue hysteria from the usual suspects. On BBC TV’s Question Time last week, Labour’s Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Attorney General, was spitting tacks over the proposal. It was quite extraordinary, she spluttered, that politicians should presume to tell people how many children they should have.
Calm down, dear! She appeared to think IDS was the reincarnation of Chairman Mao. But, of course, the Welfare Minister was not suggesting a Chinese-style two-child maximum for families — merely that the state shouldn’t shell out for every subsequent child. Yet from Ms Thornberry’s reaction, you’d have thought he was proposing the slaughter of the first-born.
Divesting herself of the fatuous observation that people have children ‘for love, not for money’, she was simply incredulous at the suggestion that people might actually consider whether they can afford to have a child.
Planet Earth to Ms Thornberry! This is how most working people actually live. Having a child is an increasingly costly business.
Millions of working families make an often very stressful financial calculation: whether they can continue to meet their mortgage repayments if only one parent is working; whether they can afford the cost of childcare if both work; whether they can afford the food and clothes bills of yet more children, or even, at a push, pay the fees of independent schools to which, these days, so many are now driven by rotten state schooling.
And if they can’t afford more children, many working families reluctantly decide not to have them.
This is the prudent and responsible way to behave. So, as IDS says, why should this be any different for people living on benefits?
Yet in response to this eminently sensible and fair-minded inquiry, a writer for the Observer yesterday suggested offensively that the Welfare Minister needed a brain scan, so astounded was she by his ‘entrenched 18th-century world view’.
A red mist seemed to descend on this writer at the suggestion that people on benefits are being encouraged to have more and more children because they know the state will help pay for them each time.
But the fact is that while people in work tend to limit their families to an average of two children apiece, in households totally dependent upon the state, mothers tend to have many more.
That’s because if poor women are offered an automatic cash handout for every child, lots of them will have more and more children. This is hardly rocket science.
Mothers on welfare know their housing needs will be met and other living costs subsidised — and that with every subsequent child they will qualify for more child benefit and a bigger house.
So whereas for people in work, more children usually mean they have to tighten their belts, for those dependent on the state, more children mean they become better off.
For the welfare ideologues on the Left, however, this double standard is entirely justified. They don’t believe poor people should be expected to behave responsibly. They don’t believe poor people react rationally to financial incentives like everyone else.
In effect, therefore, the Left views the poor as imbeciles — and indeed, since personal responsibility is part of our make-up, even as less than fully human.
Not only is that deeply contemptuous of the poor and unfair to working families, but it also acts as a perverse incentive to irresponsible behaviour and destructive outcomes. For large families on welfare are very often problem families.
Child Benefit is paid to the mother regardless of whether there’s a father on board. As a result, some lone mothers have more and more children, often by different fathers, none of whom stays on the scene. It is not unreasonable to view Child Benefit as the principal state engine of mass fatherlessness.
Indeed, the rationale behind it is that the behaviour or marital situation of the mother is irrelevant. All that matters are the children’s needs — which have been defined exclusively in financial terms.
The result has been incalculable harm done to children, whose actual needs require care by both their parents; to women running the gauntlet of abuse at the hands of transient boyfriends; and to the fathers excluded from family life.
So why should the taxpayer be forced to subsidise this destruction of the moral codes underpinning a civilised society?
Until now, politicians have been paralysed by the inevitable firestorm that would follow from any attempt to rein in Child Benefit.
Hats off to IDS, therefore, for his courage. For he is not just aiming to bring down Britain’s unsustainable welfare bill.
He is driven by his understanding of the vicious nexus of welfare dependency, perverse incentives and sexual free-for-all that has produced our social and personal disaster — people trapped in a permanent underclass characterised by neglect, abuse, violence, drug addiction, educational failure, unemployment and crime.
That is what IDS is trying to break. And that’s the terrible and shameful legacy of the Left now hurling its pathetic insults at him.
Progressive politics should surely be about encouraging people to behave responsibly, and discouraging them from behaving in an anti-social fashion.
Yet for years the amoral, self-centred Left has been promoting destructive and anti-social behaviour — which has principally damaged the very people at the bottom of the heap over whom it sheds such crocodile tears.
It is the Left which is responsible for these deserts of degradation, squalor and misery caused by the disintegration of the family among the poor. It is the Left which is therefore the real ‘nasty party’ — as sanctimonious as it is socially destructive.
And there are surely few more sanctimonious than the Lib Dems, who say they will not support any plan to stop Child Benefit beyond the second child. Of course, they support the proposal to cut it in those households where one earner brings in annually more than £60,000, because that means hitting the better-off.
Ministers are said to be nervous of a major backlash against this policy, when families this week start receiving official letters spelling out what they will lose.
In fact, this kind of means-testing is never fair or satisfactory. And the problem lies not with the better-off but with Child Benefit itself.
The belief behind it that claimants have an absolute entitlement to demand that the state fund them, whatever their behaviour, has done our society untold damage.
Capping Child Benefit at two children is a start. But in a perfect world, it should be abolished altogether and tax relief on marriage re-introduced.
After all, Prime Minister, if merely tinkering with it will cause you such grief, why not take the Child Benefit bull by the horns, restore responsibility to child-bearing — and thus make the nation’s desperately needed gain worth all the pain?