Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The squeezed middle

Sneeze, and you'd have missed my contribution to the 'debate' on local radio this morning about cutting benefits. I was asked yesterday if I'd be willing to discuss the so-called 'squeezed middle' and - in particular - what measures government could introduce to help families. In the event I was on the 'phone listening to what amounted to a party political broadcast by the Conservative Member for Stamford and Grantham, Nick Boles, which turned out to be about bus passes and the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.

If you did sneeze, I managed at least to make my point (apropos giving benefits to all pensioners, irrespective of income) about the ridiculously unfair method of means testing child benefit that the government is introducing shortly, but - frankly - I wouldn't go hunting for it on iPlayer if I were you. My other contributions - such as they were - consisted of trying to get a word in edgeways while Nick Boles was pontificating, something he seemed to be allowed to do for an inordinately long time.

Never mind. I've got this blog to put my views across, which is just as well as I've got plenty. As, no doubt, have you. And what I'd like to know is what I was originally asked on air to discuss. Forget bus passes for a moment; put the issue of pensioners to one side. There is plenty to debate there, another time. But what I'd be interested to hear today is what you think needs to be done to help struggling families.

Is it right to withdraw universal child benefit so that those who need it, get it? Or should everyone be entitled equally to financial help with raising a family? And what about maternity entitlement? Paternity leave? Parenthood is, after all, the most important job in the economy: without children, there's no workforce, no doctors, nurses, care workers to look after the elderly. Every nation on earth frets about its birth rate for that very reason (although in China, they fret for slightest different reasons).

My own view is that if half the resources, energy and air-time were devoted to securing appropriate contributions through taxation from those currently employing hordes of accountants and financial advisers to avoid paying their dues, we'd save an awful lot more than the paltry £1.4bn Nick Boles claims taking bus passes away from little old ladies is likely to achieve.

But what's your view? Should we all tighten our belt? Or should it depend, to some extent, on the size of your waist?



6 comments:

  1. Loving the new header ;-)

    I think we do need to have a system where those who have more pay their share and that money is used to help those who have less BUT it needs to be done sensibly and without the cliffedge that the changes to child benefit create and the arbitary nature of how they have imposed it

    Surely it cannot be beyond the big brains we have in this country to come up with a system where no section gets squeezed and we collectively give as much as we should to support those with the greatest needs?

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  2. I'm with you. I don't know how we deal with the cliffedge issue but there must be a way..... slow phasing in of changes might help so that people can plan what they're going to do.... this govt seems pretty keen on that unpleasant element of surprise though (I'm an environmental campaigner and they managed to totally pee everyone off by illegally changing the rates for solar recently). There was a shocking (well not really, we all know it's corrupt as hell) Dispatches the other day where they highlighted that the HMRC non execs are all CEOs and the like of companies which have their HQ's in Luxembourg and Guernsey. TBH I reckon sorting out the corruption at the top might well mean the govt has less to spend 'cos companies will go elsewhere but I'd rather we did that than tolerate corrupt, immoral leadership and governance. It sucks. Oh.... so much more to rant about, but I'll leave it there for now ;-)

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  3. Having lived in the USA (where there is NO safety net) I am shocked now when I see how much Brits get from the government for doing feck all. We got family allowance when I was little and I could never understand it. You get money for having more children? I absolutely think that allowance should be means tested, but it also shouldn't be used as yet another encouragement to keep on having babies.
    I could go on and on (and believe me, I'm a bleeding heart liberal) but I think people need to remember that it's other people's money they are spending. We (my family) recently had to look at the whole issue of pensioners "deeding" their houses to their kids in order to avoid paying for their residential old-age home care. We decided it just wasn't fair; if you own a home and you can no longer live in it by yourself, why should you be able to give it to you kids so that your housing can be paid for?
    In about 50-70 years I think historians will look at the British welfare system as a well-intentioned experiment that failed. The country now doesn't have the money to sustain it and that's because too many people have abused it (as well as the fact that the population can't support the ageing baby-boomers). It was never meant to be a way of life, just a safety net for those in need.

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  4. "Puerile witterings" - LOVE it. You've made it dude!

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  5. Hmm, the squeezed middle thing does bother me a little – yes, things could be easier but we have a roof over our heads and food on the table, and I'd rather help first went to people genuinely struggling with those things.

    That said, the biggest thing for me is the cost of childcare – the cost of just going to work once you've had a kid is insanity, and it's got to be bad for the economy when a huge chunk of the workforce suddenly can't afford to work. And my biggest annoyance in the current system is maternity/paternity leave – the first time in my life someone had told me I had to divide my household work a certain way because I was the woman. Parental leave should be six weeks for the mother to recover from the birth (longer if medically needed, of course), then the rest of it to be taken by whichever parent wants to take it, regardless of genitalia.

    Those earning over £50k don't *need* child benefit by any stretch of the imagination, but those people will be paying a lot in income tax and there are arguments to be made about universal benefits helping ensure everyone feels they have a stake in the system.

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  6. I may have blogged a few times on this subject to. While I think means testing of most benefits is a good thing we need to make sure families are supported. Yes I earn a good wage but if we want my wife to stay at home with the children it's not so much. Just about enough to support us.
    I hate the fact that the cost of childcare is so high that it forces families into decisions and don't get me started on the 2 days paid paternity leave.

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