The policy treats children like consumer goods rather than human beings. It's time to end itby Tom Clark / January 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
“Well, I never asked to be born.” It’s a teenage protest that grates on parents precisely because it makes a fair point. One reason why we’ve got a moral obligation to make sure that others don’t have an unduly miserable life is that having a life in the first place is not a choice, but something we are saddled with.
The two-child cap on Universal Credit—on which Amber Rudd has today announced a partial retreat—ignores this reality. Rather than treat children as individual people with their own interests, it imagines them as a consumer choice made by their parents.
While many benefit cuts made since 2010 have been harsh, none of the others were quite so brutally arbitrary in principle as this one. The infamous “bedroom tax,” for example, at least had a defensible theoretical rationale: of freeing up scarce social homes for big families who need them.
The absolute cap on household benefits has been painful in pricey inner London, but at least—in theory—families could escape its bite by moving to other places where rents are cheaper. But a poor family deemed to have had “too many” children, and then punished for that, has no option but getting poorer.
Every scheme of poor relief since the Elizabethan poor law has paid regard to how many mouths a family has to feed. But like China’s abandoned one-child policy, this two-child policy sacrificed the welfare of individuals who happen to have been born into larger families to some presumptuous idea of the greater good.
The moralising former welfare secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was reported to be a particular enthusiast for a cut that was intended to jolt parents into behavioural change, and taking responsibility for the size of their brood.
Philosophically speaking, however, making a child poorer because of its number of siblings offends the against human rights approach so central to our democracy elsewhere.
The need for a get-out clause for mothers who could demonstrate that third children were conceived non-consensually—the so-called ‘rape clause’—illustrates the grotesque place where social policy can end up when it ceases to be arranged around the needs of the child, and is instead designed around tests of parents’ sexual responsibilities. In practice,…