Child Benefit reform - a spectacular own-goal
Toasting the first day of Conference with a glass of sparkling mineral water, David Cameron and George Osborne have taken a swipe at the very foundation of society they promised to support.
His Grace is not in favour of universal benefits: it is indeed absurd that the poor should be taxed to subsidise the rich and that the state should cream off the costs of administering such an arrangement .
But the announcement yesterday on the reform of Child Benefit is as unjust as it is non-sensical. It completely upstaged the rather more welcome cap on benefits, which will put an end to families of 10 living in £1.2million mansions on benefits worth £166,000 a year, all courtesy of the taxpayer. And no doubt the Child Benefit reform will rumble on today, upstaging important debates on poverty.
The Chancellor's announcement was simply to withdraw the benefit from households in which either parent pays the higher-rate of income tax (40 per cent), so that anyone earning more than £44,000 (c£32,000 after tax) would lose £1,056 per annum (for one child); £1,753 (for two); £2,449 (for three); £3,146 (for four); or £3,843 (for five).
This is not petty cash or pocket money.
What irks His Grace is that any couple with one earner on more than £44,000 will lose their child benefit, even if the other stays at home and has no income.
Many mothers opt to stay at home to look after their children: this is wholesome, good, and a manifest benefit to society which ought to be encouraged.
But two working parents each earning just under the higher-rate tax threshold can now earn more than £80,000 and retain child benefit, while a household with just one income of £45,000 would lose it.
How is this supporting marriage and the family?
Why is the Conservative Party penalising families in which the mother chooses to stay at home to rear and nurture her children?
As Michael Gove said last year, the decline of marriage is 'bad for us all'. He said:
If we're all reviewing our economic perspectives in the wake of the credit crunch, shouldn't we also extend that same process to our most intimate concerns? Shouldn't we see personal relations less through the prism of celebrating freedom and maximising pleasure and more as a means of growing through sharing? Support for marriage should actually be a cause behind which progressives rally. We may promise to wed for richer, for poorer, but we all live in an impoverished society if more and more people choose to put me before we.And at the 2008 conference, Maria Miller MP, then shadow minister for the family and one of Michael Gove's team, announced a new policy:
Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they (are) putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too.Along with tax-breaks for married couples, this crucial support for marriage appears to have been a victim of the Coalition agreement.
This is not progressive, and neither is it compassionate nor particularly conservative.