Cutting universal child benefit is scathing and ideological

— Scott Wheeler contributed with this opinion piece

It doesn’t matter what your views are on how to cut the deficit. Paradoxically, cutting child benefit for the top 15% of earners is not an attack on the rich – but on the poor.

Yes, in the short term it’ll be the rich who will be hit hardest. But in the long term it’s the poorest in society who be the hit the hardest as the stigma attached to benefits grows and as the middle classes become increasingly alienated from the welfare state.


David Cameron announced that the Coalition will be cutting child benefit for the rich. Photo: The Prime Minister's Office

You may ask, why would the poor be stigmatised if the vast majority of people are still entitled to benefits? Two words: slippery slope. Look at tuition fees. They came in at £1,100 and then nearly trebled to £3,000. Even prior to the recession people talked about them needing to go up to £5,000. Now with the deep recession there is talk of them going up to £10,000.

So what happens when the next recession comes along? Where will be the first point of call? Benefits.

The questions will be raised as to whether middle England will need child benefits. Eventually we will get an American style system where by only the “deserving poor” will get benefits. Now what “deserving poor” means is highly up for debate. Therefore it is again inevitable that many of the poor will miss out and many will refuse to take the benefits as a culture will develop that they are “scroungers”.

We therefore get a society that becomes increasingly divided and alienated from what would once be called the welfare state. You may be now saying calm down this can all be undone when growth returns and then you can stop whinging. In the meantime, we need cut the huge deficit that won’t cut itself.

The sad reality is that it is unlikely that the Labour government will take a walk up a slippery slope. The slope is slippery because of populism. A YouGov poll showed that 83% support the principle of cutting child benefits on the rich. So it would take a very brave government to undo something that so many are against. No government wants to look like it’s helping the rich. But as I say, counter-intuitively they are doing exactly that.

This is why the Tories are doing this. I don’t believe that they are doing this in a spiteful sense and I don’t believe the Tories want to harm the poor, but
I think indirectly they will in the long run.

Secondly the idea that this cut has to happen because of the state of the finances is wrong. Why should high earners that have kids suffer? Why not just high earners? I don’t see any reason why they can’t just as increase the higher rate of income tax from 40% to 41%.

So the reality is, is that these are avoidable. They do create a divisive society. They do alienate people from the welfare state. What next? If you had the NHS means tested we would go back to 19th century-style hospitals. A poor healthcare for the poor and a great healthcare for the rich. I’m not saying that I think this will happen (at least not in the medium term), but what will happen is that child poverty faces increasing in the long term as the political parties who advocate more help for the poor will be seen to be talking to only one small and unpopular section of society.

I urge Ed Miliband to be brave and make the unpopular decision of saying that he will reverse this. No ifs, no buts, no ambiguous or ambivalent language. He’s said he’s against this cut, but many political leaders say this at the time of the cut and then avoid talking about it once it’s out of public discussion.

This cut will save a measly one billion pounds which is less than one percent of the deficit. Even if you agree with the principle of the cut, is it really worth the risk?

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