MAHM member Marie Peacock has written this excellent letter to Labour MP Chris Leslie, who responded by saying that he thinks ‘we need to fight against the proposals to chip away at child benefit in the way proposed by the Government.’
“Dear Mr Leslie,
Regarding Child Benefit, I believe you’ve opposed the proposed cuts- or at least the way it’s being implemented which is unfair. As a mum who has spent years at home (now working part time around the school day) I’d like to make a few points in agreement:
1) Universal allowance:
I agree the cuts are unfair because they penalise some women more than others and I firmly believe in the case for it to remain universal. Child Benefit goes some way to recognising some of the huge costs of raising the next generation of taxpayers that ‘others’ in the population – by others I mean non parents, younger single people, older people with adult children – do not (yet) need to worry about. If there was no child benefit then people without children to care for would have a far higher standard of living than those with children on the same or comparable incomes, but is this fair to parents or children? Should raising a family be that difficult? Should responsible hard-working parents be forced to struggle that much? Families with children need larger housing, have bigger food bills, clothing bills etc – they also have less ‘time’ to earn the money they need due to caring for others. So at least the general population should recognise their contribution to the economic future of the country by some sort of family allowance/tax breaks for working families. People don’t ‘ opt into’ parenting – rather it’s the ones who choose not to have children of their own who ‘opt out’. Having a family is the default position for us humans is it not? We should all be supporting the nation’s future. Mothers in particular – and dads who often take on most of the caring where their wives earn more – are penalised heavily for taking care of the family; such penalties for raising a family is surely not in keeping with the notion of equality in 2012?
When single or childfree people complain that they can’t afford to /don’t wish to ‘subsidise’ other families who are ‘fecklessly’ having children, then I can see where they’re coming from (although it makes no sense really); after all if they, as single people without children, are finding it hard to cope on their income after tax, can they even begin to imagine how terribly hard it is for a parent to cope with all the extra expenditure that’s required and all the caring responsibilities that go with it?
2) Language used:
Child benefit is called a ‘welfare hand –out’ by some people, but this language is misleading as it’s really a ‘Family Allowance’ – I wish they’d never called it a benefit in the first place. What we need is a complete change of terminology once and for all.
3) Income splitting:
Income splitting would be the best form of tax break as it would help all working parents with children under 18 years , regardless of the parents’ working patterns and how they share work/care ( whereas married couples allowance or transferable tax allowances unfortunately only help couples with a 1 earner/1 stay at home model – a period of time which is relatively short for most these days).
4) Loss of Child Benefit would affect low paid working mothers as well as stay at home mums:
There’s a common assumption that only voters who are mums at home with higher earning husbands are going to suffer. Not true and misleading of the press/politicians to present it in this way.
In fact part time working mothers (also big voters!) on low income around school hours will also suffer as they see their monthly income going down drastically as a result of their husband’s wages (say £45,000) and threatened loss of child benefit entitlement. Often their earning potential after a career break,(often part time and term time only) is very poor: child benefit makes all the difference to their perceived hourly wage which is often below the minimum wage in professions such as childcare. Is this the way they get treated for the years spent at home, and for willingly giving up careers to take care of the family properly?
I really hope the Labour party fights to retain child benefit for mothers. It’s important it remains universal. It’s important it’s carried out fairly across the board, based on household and parental income (including absent parents who’ve divorced) rather than individual taxation thresholds. In many families mums do the bulk of the caring and often work hard in low paid jobs- cutting child benefit is a step backwards for equality, for fairness, for children and for family units. We need to recognise that time spent caring is important productive use of time.