Is the Government putting children in poverty, and do we care?
Just sent the kids back to school? Grateful that the ankle-biting blighters are not round your ankles anymore or lamenting the return of school run traffic clogging up your daily commute? Either way, what better time to release new research into the poor, put-upon UK family, entitled “The impact of austerity measures on households with children”? But is this really news, do we really care, and are people with children just victims of their own life choices?
The report, from the Family and Parenting Institute (FPI) builds upon research already published (and reported on) by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) into the growing likelihood of child poverty in the UK owing to the ‘austerity measures’ imposed by the Government. Of course, such measures are being whacked on the country as a whole, but with the changes to tax credits, specifically child tax credit, and child benefit, it is families who are feeling the pinch most keenly.
This ‘new’ research does not dispute any of the earlier findings, but rather analyses which types of family and which sections of society are most likely to become classed as in poverty (defined as either 60% or less of the median UK income, or as having income below a stated amount set in 2010/11) between now and 2015.
The first conclusion is that if you have four or more children, they are more likely to be in poverty than families with fewer children in the family. While this would seem to be simple plain common blinking sense, this is actually based on family (likely to be parental) income, not a per-child measure. Also, families with two children are less likely to be in poverty than those with one. How very 2.4 Children. So, these findings suggest that those with the least money are having the most children, a hypothesis supported by the conclusion that “reforms to tax credits increase the amount of benefit received if parents do not work, but reduce the amount of benefit received in work.” And after all, if you aren’t working, you need to do something to occupy your time, don’t you?
But this is perhaps the only useful conclusion. The report goes on to discover that families with children aged under five are more likely to be in poverty than those with children aged 5-10 or 11-18, and that Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are the most likely to be in poverty than any other ethnic group. If you hail from Bangalore and have four children under five, then, you are screwed.
The problem with the report is that, other than the number of children, families can’t really do much about the ages of their children or their ethnicity. How does this report help anyone? Would the FPI really suggest that all Pakistani and Bangladeshi families get extra tax credits just because they are Pakistani or Bangladeshi? What use is research that identifies problems without solutions? If I were on the board of the FPI I might prefer spending our charitable funds helping families who are in poverty, rather than on research that tells me the hypothetical likelihood of a certain family falling into poverty. Just a thought.
But there is also a wider issue. Government spending has certainly been cut, and many sections of society are facing reduced circumstances, compared with a few years ago. It is generally accepted that people with families should get extra help/income/tax credits to help them bring up their family.
Or should they? If we assume that it costs £200,00 to get a child up to age 18, is it not a personal choice to spend your money on a child rather than, say, a holiday home, a Bugatti Veyron or a substantial collection of designer shoes? A Jimmy Choo toting single person driving their Bugatti to their Cornwall retreat would not expect State help for their lifestyle choices, so why do parents?
Research done last year by PolicyExchange looked at the issue of fairness and entitlement in society, and found that “The majority of people think that fairness is mainly a question of people getting what they deserve, rather than being about equal treatment.”
The survey also found that more people do not support either benefits or tax breaks for people with children. 55% of people disagreed with the idea that “people with children should be given higher benefits to compensate for the costs of bringing them up” with only 36% being in agreement. A greater percentage of people (44%) agreed that “people with children should have to pay less tax to compensate for the costs of bringing them up”, but there were still 47% who disagreed. People also think there should be a limit on the help available. By more than two to one (66%-27%) respondents agreed that “people who have more than three children should not get extra child benefit if they have a fourth”.
So, should we feel sorry for families or let them lie in their self-made beds? And won’t somebody please think of the children?*
*Mrs Helen Lovejoy.