Knowing that almost 200 women have had to provide proof of rape is bad enough. But the child benefit cap isn’t just cruel. It’s also woefully short-sightedby Dawn Foster / June 29, 2018 / Leave a comment
Three children play together on a beach in West Sussex. Photo: PA The Conservatives have claimed to be many things over the years: the party of business, the party of ‘British Values’—whatever that vague and woolly term means—but always the family of the traditional family. The latter claim is in tatters, however, with the party’s increasingly anti-family policies wreaking havoc on the bank balances of most mid-to-low earning families. Under David Cameron and now Theresa May, it’s difficult to argue the party is anything more than a special interest group for plutocrats. Nothing illustrates this more sharply than the Conservatives’ own two-child policy: child benefit, which was already a small drop in the pond of overall welfare spend, is now capped. Under the bungled Universal Credit scheme, the third and subsequent children in any family will be ineligible for any further child benefit. The first figures released on the policy shift since it came into force in April 2017 show 71,000 families have already been affected. Once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, an additional 200,000 children will be plunged into poverty by the cap. For each additional child after the first two, families stand to lose £2,720 whether they are in or out of work. Eventually, Child Poverty Action Group project 830,000 families with 2.5 million children will be affected—encompassing one in 6 children in the country. There is an exception. Immediately upon announcement, many people noticed the government had provided those who had become pregnant through rape an opportunity to apply for an exemption, by submitting evidence to be reviewed by the Department for Work and Pensions. Alison Thewliss, a Scottish National Party MP, has campaigned hard against this “rape clause,” explaining that it retraumatises women and reveals the inhumanity of a system designed to police conception and family size. Statistics show that, so far, 190 women have been granted an exemption to the clause by providing a government department with proof they have been raped. But that is unlikely to reveal the true scale: not only will many women accept poverty over revealing a trauma they felt unable to report otherwise, but in Northern Ireland, failing to report a crime carries the threat of prosecution. Many groups in Northern Ireland expressed concern over this fact, including the British Labour Party. The statistics seem to have borne out the concern: there were no cases of women being granted an exemption for having a third child as a result of rape in NI, only in England, Wales and Scotland. The policy is also short-sighted and authoritarian in other ways. With an ageing population, it is obvious throughout Europe that falling birth rates will cause a crisis in a social care system that is already collapsing. It also ignores entirely any concept of religious sentiment: almost every religious group in the United Kingdom has condemned the move, discriminating as it does against larger families. Most tellingly, it shifts how we view children, revealing again the Conservative obsession with money over actual values. The policy is also utterly anti-family, treating people with less money as an inconvenience when they have children and attempting to enforce limits on choice around conception that should belong to individuals, not the state. The reason child benefit existed, the reason we fund schools, and the reason many people fight for more parental rights, is because children are a social good and should be treated as such. The problem with the child benefit cap is that it views children born into poverty as a drain on society, rather than a precious resource in their own right, providing not just happiness for their families, but also the literal future of the country, and world, we live in. The Conservative error is to view having, and raising, such children as a privilege that only the rich should be free to participate in without sanctions. Wealth is not an indicator of parental virtue, but plunging ever more children into poverty is a sure sign of wilful abdication of moral responsibility. Poverty is expensive and ruinously damaging psychologically: happy, satisfied children grow into future citizens who participate in society socially and financially. Saving a few pennies now means scarring children’s lives and futures in the long term—costing us not only far more financially, but socially.