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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 08-Jul-15 14:39:48

Guest post: "The government must support families as they are, not as they wish they would be"

As George Osborne announces his budget, Head in Book considers what the child tax credit limit may mean for families

Head in Book

Head in Book

Posted on: Wed 08-Jul-15 14:39:48


Lead photo

"Children cannot only be acceptable when slotted into a life plan between the starter home and the pension."

What are children for? In the current climate, you could be forgiven for thinking that they're biological timebombs, little leeches designed to suck not just milk but wealth. On a domestic level, that's probably true (the old chestnut about new parents arranging to have their salary paid directly to Mothercare has a painful basis in reality), but the general consensus seems to be that it applies on a national level too.

Babies are, apparently, lifestyle choices, you see. Just as you wouldn't expect the HardWorkingTaxPayer© (henceforth HWTP) to pay for your conservatory or your cruise, it's unreasonable to expect them to contribute to the upkeep of little Conor or Chloe. You can't afford children? Don't have them!

The government, generally, agrees. In today's budget George Osborne announced that child tax credits will be limited to two children. Trailed in most newspapers this morning, it seems that there is a lot of public support for this measure. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, since it's hard to open a newspaper, listen to a radio or TV debate or browse through Facebook without being confronted by one of these bloated (in all senses of the word) families, living it up on money scrounged from the HWTP. They're everywhere. Except, surprisingly, in the statistics.

I count myself lucky beyond measure in my children, but three is absolutely my limit. I have finances and family on my side, but it would take considerably more than a few extra pounds a week to reconcile me to an unexpected addition - and I think that I'm probably the norm. The vast majority of us have the family we can manage, financially and otherwise, based on our circumstances when we have them and how we reasonably foresee them to be in the future.

My dewy-eyed pregnancy fantasies didn't include the day my offspring would get their National Insurance number through the post. Procreating is an essentially selfish act, but not in the same way as, say, having an extension built.

I'll be honest: in choosing to have babies, I wanted to raise a family with the man I love, rather than conscientiously doing my bit for the common good. My dewy-eyed pregnancy fantasies didn't include the day my offspring would get their National Insurance number through the post. Procreating is an essentially selfish act, but not in the same way as, say, having an extension built.

The problem with the two child limit is that it gives an official stamp of approval to this idea that children are an indulgence. I'm sure that those in authority would love to preside over a nation of conscientiously contracepting couples, who make a couple of dates in their (married) lives to dutifully doff the johnnies with a murmured "lie back, darling, and think of the Exchequer". But life, and sex, and babies, don't work that way.

Children can't only be acceptable when slotted into a life plan between the starter home and the pension. No method of birth control is 100% certain, and not every woman has that degree of choice over her pregnancies. Multiple births, bereavements, redundancies, relationship breakdowns: no matter how carefully life is planned, sometimes the unexpected happens.

Even if we choose to ignore all the external factors which contribute to parents labelled as "feckless", their children remain vulnerable. There is nothing abstract about hardship, nothing theoretical about struggling to keep your children warm and forgoing meals so that they can eat.

Does supporting families cost a lot? Yes, but not as much as other, unchallenged, areas of public spending. Do some people cheat the system and avoid work in order to live on benefits? Yes, but nowhere near as many as people think, and unless you are on the fiddle the sums involved don't make it a particularly attractive proposition. Recasting our entire social security structure in order to shake them out smacks somewhat of closing down Tesco because kids have been pinching KitKats from the bottom shelves.

Of course it is important to encourage people to take responsibility for their own circumstances and to ensure that public funds are used appropriately. The danger of turning that aim into policy, though, is that it takes no account of the realities of life for many people. We live in a time of soaring housing costs, insecure employment and the resultant toll on health and emotional resilience which put tremendous pressure on parents.

There are undoubtedly difficult questions about public finances, but the answer should never include withdrawing crucial funds from families without the means to support themselves adequately. The government must support families as they are, not as they wish them to be. Is the alternative a price we can afford?

By Head in Book

Twitter: @headinbook

punnedout Wed 08-Jul-15 16:24:52

"The problem with the two child limit is that it gives an official stamp of approval to this idea that children are an indulgence."

The limit acknowledges that society is responsible for supporting people's right to enjoy family life if they so choose, but not to do so indefinitely. Having children is, in the vast majority of cases, a choice like any other and my hope is that this measure will encourage people to think about their personal circumstances before having a 3rd/4th/5th child.

I do, however, have sympathy with your point that children are not to blame. I don't know what the answer is to this, as I absolutely agree with the social policy point but can't bear to think of it being ignored and children being disadvantaged because of it.

TheseSoles Wed 08-Jul-15 16:38:43

I agree with you.

The answer to complicated questions is never and should never be to plunge children into poverty and then cover our eyes and pretend it isn't happening.

AnyoneForTennis Wed 08-Jul-15 16:49:02

It's not plunging children into poverty at all. Tax credits are a top up.... Decent parents would cut back elsewhere to ensure their child is fed and clothed. Sky tv/mobile contracts/cars/smoking and drinking.... Remove those to ensure your child eats?

MrsVamos Wed 08-Jul-15 16:55:48

And what do you suggest is next to go when the Sky/mobile/cars/smoking and drinking have already gone,AnyoneForTennis ?

Food/heating/clothing/paying bills ?

What ?

How dare you. 'Decent parents'.

I would hope 'decent parents' would raise their children with empathy and compassion for others.

Something it appears some in this country are sorely lacking.

coffeeisnectar Wed 08-Jul-15 17:00:52

We don't smoke and very, very rarely drink. We don't go out. We don't have sky. We have four children, two each with my two living with us. Two years ago we were getting £5 in wtc and some ctc. Now we live on esa, full ctc, cb and pip. Not through choice and not because,my children have done anything to deserve living like this. My kids don't miss out on meals but their life isn't as good as it was previously. I'm disabled and I hate them seeing me in pain and asking for help to put shoes on.

The knock on effect is little maintenance going to dps youngest, not seeing her as we can't afford fuel.

My oldest is nearly 17, I'd never heard of tax credits until I had her and was told I could get help with childcare so I could go back to work.

We are coping, just. I will do without, as I've always done, to ensure my kids eat well. Any more cuts and I'm not sure what else we could cut from our budget. We face increases in home and car insurance, both essential but hope to shop about to get a good deal somewhere.

AnyoneForTennis Wed 08-Jul-15 17:05:17

mrsvamos yes, 'I dare'.... Decent parents.

MrsVamos Wed 08-Jul-15 17:09:58


Do you have any answers to the question I asked ?

What do you suggest is cut when you can cut no more ?

Any sensible ideas ? Or just more sneering ?

AnyoneForTennis Wed 08-Jul-15 17:13:48

Well how can I answer for your own circumstances without knowing income/outgoings, how ridiculous

But is supporting your own children really such a novel idea?

MrsVamos Wed 08-Jul-15 17:23:10

I didn't say they are my own circumstances, did I ?

No, supporting your own children is not a 'novel idea'. I always have, thank you.

I'm just wondering what the options are for people who cut back, and cut back, and cut back, and can't cut any further ?

Do you have any suggestions, or are you just interested in trying to argue with me and belittle me ?

Scoobydoo8 Wed 08-Jul-15 17:40:44

I think people in the UK could take more responsibility for all aspects of their lives, not just whether they have DCs or not.

I've lived in the US, we shouldn't emulate there benefit system, but you have to admire people who actually happily take on 2 or even 3 jobs to get their kids through college. It's for a certain part of their lives, their DCs will benefit as will the DPs in the long run. They just do it.

Here everyone bleats if they have to pay for anything.

Annamaria0 Wed 08-Jul-15 17:53:22

I'll be in a minority here, and I am not a Conservative voter, but I have to say, restricting child benefit to the first two is a responsible thing to do. Last year alone, this country's population rose by half a million. Globally, we are eating up Earth's resources much faster that they can be replenished. We are wrecking the planet, and personally, I am shocked people have more than 2 or 3 children, when they know those same children will inherit a planet that is severely overpopulated and running out of resources. By having so many in the first place, you are making their future potentially more precarious. I suppose they think it is other nations'responsibility. I simply do not understand why people don't see it is everyone's responsibility- but then, having children is a selfish decision, as Head in Book wrote in her post. That is not to say that poor children should not be helped - I am quite happy to pay taxes towards cheaper childcare, for example. I have just one child, as I felt I could not afford more, especially given the childcare costs, which are a much bigger issue in my opinion, than cutting child benefit for the 3rd and any other subsequent child.

meglet Wed 08-Jul-15 17:53:34

good lord. cutting back on cars and mobile phones? last time I checked both were modern essentials for most people.

lots of people couldn't work without a car. and a basic mobile is a tenner a month. hardly decadent.

pieinthesky123 Wed 08-Jul-15 18:58:38

But what about the parents who fell pregnant naturally with triplets. It does happen. Three of almost everything and the costs of childcare x 3. If it's their one and only pregnancy they are hardly being wreckless.

Surely it would be fairer to limit the cuts to two pregnancies, which should be carefully planned and considered rather than discriminate against a family who unexpectedly had natural triplets and only one pregnancy surely?

noddingoff Wed 08-Jul-15 19:46:19

I agree with AnnaMariaO. Increasing the population is an environmental indulgence which we cannot afford. This country is pretty much at capacity and probably actually overpopulated. A slow, slight, well managed population decline would not be a bad thing. It would be tough for a few generations as there would be even fewer young people to drive the economy and care for us as we get older but we need to do it.

CalmYoBadSelf Wed 08-Jul-15 20:03:15

pie I thought I read there is an exemption for multiple births?

I'm conflicted on this. I don't want to see children in poverty but, equally, I would like to see more responsibility taken by some parents and think it is wrong when working people curtail their family through cost some on benefits don't

I don't think this is a perfect solution but something needs to change

Wasn't it Thatcher who said "There's no such thing as society"?

That seems to be the Tory approach.

Very little clubbing together to support the vulnerable - and it could be you and yours next. More look after your own.

I think you make good points OP about how the various challenges of life such as illness, disability, and bereavement, alongside job insecurity, can hit any of us at any moment.

Agree that the government needs to support families as they are, not only how they and we would ideally all like to be living - in a world without problems

Gintonic Wed 08-Jul-15 20:41:24

Why should people receiving benefits be free of the responsibility of providing for their children? Working people who are not receiving benefits won't get a pay hike because they have a third child. I think it is right that the benefits system doesn't incentivise people to have more children than they can afford. That is not to say i agree with all the cuts, especially those affecting disabled people.

Positivelyhappy Wed 08-Jul-15 20:56:52

I agree that people shouldn't expect the state to pay for their children but disagree that people shouldn't have more than two kids. If you can afford to educate your kids privately, private healthcare etc. isn't that your prerogative?

CaptainHolt Wed 08-Jul-15 20:57:02

Part of the problem is luxuries are cheap and essentials are expensive and some people haven't realised it's not the '50s. You can make your life hard by not having a phone, or a bit gloomy by not having the ubiquitous flat screen TV but neither of these 'luxuries' will free up the money to keep a roof over your head. People need to stop with the 'they can't be poor, they have a TV!' mantra. It's 2015 and tesco sell them for less than an average weeks rent.

MajesticWhine Wed 08-Jul-15 21:02:05

There is balance here between not incentivising people to have children they can't afford, and supporting those who hit hard times through no fault of their own, e.g. illness. I think that in the years 1997 - 2010 tax credits went too far the other way. So this budget, reigning them back in is the right thing in my opinion, coupled with an increase in the rebranded NMW. A longer term plan of increasing wages to replace tax credits is the right way to go.

"The problem with the two child limit is that it gives an official stamp of approval to this idea that children are an indulgence."
I don't think so, I think it serves official notice that not just the government but also parents are responsible for reducing child poverty.

MrsVamos Wed 08-Jul-15 21:07:02

I think some people need to realise having a car and a mobile can be almost a requirement of being in receipt of benefits.

Car to get to places, especially if in a rural area, also where public transport has been cut to the bone.

Phone because you need to look for work/use internet....don't people know that you are ideally supposed to apply for things : jobs, benefits etc online, therefore for some a phone is essential.

It is not that simple to keep telling people to cut, don't have this or that, when the government tell you the opposite.

Yes make people responsible, but don't cut off the means in which they try to be responsible.

MrsVamos Wed 08-Jul-15 21:07:56

....means with which...

Zippyette Wed 08-Jul-15 22:25:12

The one topic missing in this discussion is contraception, the fact that no method is 100% effective and it can be so bloody hard to access it with some surgeries making it even harder for women in their thirties to get it, which leaves us with a very gender biased policy that serves to benefit no one.

Aphgep22 Wed 08-Jul-15 22:56:34

If you can afford to have kids and not collect Benefits then people should be able to choose and have as many children as they want! I agree though if you have more than two kids this is your choice and why should you get benefits, surely if you have a third child you firstly make sure you can afford it. We stopped after two, both work full time and knew having a third would mean childcare fees, bigger house etc, just couldn't afford it.

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