Saturday, February 4, 2012

No child left behind - unless they have too many siblings

Neat summary of the rationale (if we can call it that) of the government's proposed benefits cap from the priceless Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The IFS note points out that a cap is a crude and inconsistent way of cutting benefits, since it cuts an amount, not a benefit rate. Another way of putting this is that is cuts the benefits entitlement for a family with x children, but not for a family with x-1 children (or if you prefer, for a family living in a high rent city compared with one living in a lower rent city).

Effectively, a child who has many older siblings is deemed by the government as having fewer social rights than an identical child with fewer or no siblings. What conception of justice or rights can possibly justify this?

Worse, although you could argue that those who breach the benefit cap because of high rents can move (presumably meaning schooling changes and wrecked social relationships), there is not much you can do if you have too many children. Even if you believe that providing higher benefits for big families incentivizes dependency, it is still retroactive, and there is no going back on the decision to have children. Ironically, the IFS note also points out that this will create a big incentive for affected families to split up (or pretend to), which will actually increase the benefits that can be claimed if a single family has to be accommodated twice.

If this measure gets through, we can look forward to a big increase in social misery for the most vulnerable people in this country, and it probably won't save much money.