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?

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