Friday, June 11, 2010

Which Child/Mother Benefits?

Millions may lose out in reform of child benefits

According to the above report in Times(Online):

"Frank Field, appointed by the coalition last week, is also looking at taxing child benefit and allowing parents to receive payments of up to £25,000 in the first three years after a child’s birth. In an interview with The Times, the former Labour minister said that the benefit, which costs the taxpayer £11 billion a year, should be linked more closely to the child’s age.

"Poorer parents are eligible for payments worth up to £100,000 in both child benefit and tax credits by the time a child is 19, according to Mr Field.

"He said there was a clear case for providing more money in the early years to help mothers to stay at home after their child was born — a policy also backed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary."

It is great to have a chunk of a child benefit up front to make it easier for mothers (or perhaps fathers as well?) to stay at home to give them the best start in life.

I would just caution over the "returning to work" bit. Many women are wary about staying at home for too long because it is difficult to return to work, with the best will in the world, after being away for far too long.

If families have new children within the first three years mothers may be away from work for six years, nine years and then they would find it -- like me -- difficult to get back into paid employment.

The mothers who would benefit children most by staying at home tend not to, because their professional training makes it difficult to stay away for too long. And those mothers who should go to work and give their children a chance to be exposed to a more structured and disciplined life in a nursery do not. It seems to me.

I deal with lots of mothers every Friday morning at my toddlers group. I can safely say that giving some mothers £25,000 up front will not free them from poverty. More later.

Besides, what if they spent the lot when a child is two, or four, or six? They will be crawling back to "Social" for more money. What do we do?

Reading the various fora, there seems to be a rising tide from some quarters calling for Child Benefits to be restricted only to the first two children. If you would read earlier (long) post I argued how the welfare system has basically done away with the "survival of the fittest" principle.

The result of which is both young men and women do not bother to find the best mates so that their children could have their best chances in life to survive. The benefits system is a great safety net for those who care.

But for those who are not 'bovvered', the free flow of benefits for children inside and outside of marriage mean those who could least afford it (both materially as well as in parenting ability) have the most children.

Of course you could go round with your clipboard and questionnaire survey, or reporter's notebook, and NO MOTHER would admit to having children indiscriminately just for the additional benefits. Mothers (and fathers) do get a warm fuzzy feelings about having babies.

But they must know when to stop!

If you cannot afford children, then don't have any more. Don't expect the single person, the retiree, the school cleaning lady, everyone else who pays tax to support your family.

I don't even mind supporting families if I know that they would turn out good for the society.

"Mr Field ... also wants to scrap the current measure of child poverty, defined as 60 per cent of median earnings. He intends to recommend it is replaced with a “life chances” index measuring parenting, school readiness — such as being able to hold a crayon or sit still — and progress through education. Labour had got itself into a “cul de sac” over poverty targets that no country in the world had achieved, he argued."

There is a mother in my toddler group (there are others as well but let's focus on this one) who has not a clue how to control her daughter who is small in size compared to herself and coming up three.

Hold a crayon? You must be joking. Sit still? The little girl has not been taught what a chair is for. She certainly does not have a 'naughty chair' at home.

This morning I told both mother and daughter that at "juice and biscuits time" she must try to sit down like all the other toddlers. The mum tells me she can't sit still even at nursery.

Come "juice and biscuits time" Miss High-Energy-who-does-not-talk-but-screams was zooming around with her juice and biscuits. Mum? She was sitting as far as possible from the other mums and dads, drinking her coffee and eating the stack of biscuits she picked up from the biscuit box.

Busybody me went up to her and suggested that perhaps she could sit closer to the rest of the children (like all the other parents) so that her daughter might sit down.

"No, she won't do what I tell her. Maybe I should give her a smack," she told me while chewing on her biscuit.

It is not as if this is her first child. She has two older children. And yes, if benefits were to stop at the first two, there may not be Miss-High-Energy-etc.

I would guess that hers is not a family that sits down together to eat a meal. If they have proper meals at all, it's eaten in front of the TV, possibly a large-screen TV.

What would this mother do if Mr Field were to give her £25,000 up front? She comes to Toddlers every week with her push-chair laden, simply laden down with shopping. It topples over when the daughter comes off it.

After we have cleaned up and I am going home I see her, most weeks, still shopping in the high street. What would she buy with £25,000?

I said to the lady in charge of the group I had no success in getting that little girl to sit down because her mum does not cooperate. My co-volunteer said, "Did you know she put ten sugars in her coffee? Ten!"

At the mention of Mr Field's proposals she said many families on benefits in her children's school have more material possessions (large screen TV, satellite TV, electronic games, multiple cars, etc) that her family does not have. And her husband works.

So we are all agreed: it is not money they are lacking. So throwing away that 60 percent of median earning is the right thing to do.

Many people do not like the idea of a tax regime that benefits the married couple -- because it seems so liberal to take that view -- so you must not penalize those who are not married. By the same token benefits must not be reserved for children born within marriage.

The result: there is less to go around. Yet the same people then complain their schools are not good enough, hospitals are not good enough, retirement benefits are not good enough, care homes for the elderly are not good enough.

But should benefits for a third child be stopped when the parents are not married? Think of the huge number of children living in families with siblings of many different fathers. Recent high-profile cases on child protection seem to indicate that children in such contexts are most at risk.

We then throw money at social workers in the hope that each child in those circumstances could survive to adulthood.

Back to 'my' little girl. What would this little girl become after the £100,000 of benefits that us taxpayers give to her (mother)?

Like her mother, would be my guess.

So will keep trying to teach her to sit. Pray with me.

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