“Children cost money.”
This profound truth spilled eloquently from the lips of former Conservative Party Leader Iain Duncan Smith last month at his Party’s annual conference. I once had the dubious pleasure of riding in a lift with this man, though I have to say his leery look was somewhat underwhelming.
Recently I have become somewhat of an “armchair” campaigner for children, for mothers and for those who value other things in life equally, or even dare I say above, earning loads of cash. And since I am not a journalist, here’s what the politician really said:
“That’s what the limit on Child Tax Credit for more than two children is about – bringing home to parents the reality that children cost money and if you have more kids you have to make the choices others make and not assume taxpayers money lets you avoid the consequences of such choices.”
Child Tax Credit, a means-tested UK benefit, is going to be limited to just your first two children from April 2017. Notwithstanding that this apparently breaks the Prime Minister’s election pledge, that might well be reasonable – after all it is for new children rather than existing ones. (Child benefit has already been means-tested and capped. This, in my view, is not reasonable, since this started out as a Conservative benefit which this year celebrates its 70th year of lifting children out of poverty and supporting mothers who have no other means of financial support.)
But here’s the first problem: his statement is equating children with just any other financial outlay.
Having more kids actually causes people to have to make somewhat different spending choices to those that others make, so I guess he chose his words badly. Obvious examples of the kind of choices larger famillies on modest incomes cannot make would be twice-annual holidays to foreign haunts, and cars worth bragging about.
Personally I baulk at comparing how people choose to spend their wealth because these choices are not equal. To me there is no comparison and I make no apology for my choice: one is the sort of choice which brings temporary gratification, the other brings a heritage that will touch thousands. This is not to judge people’s choices, but to shed light on the absurdity of the comparison. I have fallen into the trap myself, and I really wish we would all stop doing this.
And here’s the second problem. According to Duncan Smith (I will avoid the ubiquitous IDS since it sounds to me like some sort of disease), parents who choose not to have more than two children either a) don’t want any more children or b) want more children but can’t afford it.
Is he either saying we shouldn’t ever want more than two children; or is he saying that only rich folk should have more than two children? Either way, it makes me think of China and social engineering on an unpleasant scale, and I’m not sure which of these is more alarming. Personally I fall outside of these two categories, and I am pretty sure I am by no means the only one.
Finally, to address some assumptions. Far from “assuming taxpayers money lets me avoid the consequences of such choices,” I actually assume the majority of people in this nation place more value on their children than on the square footage of their house. I assume people remember that they were once children and consider their own existence a worthy thing. I assume that people recall that their parents raised them (for better or worse), and consider that they themselves were worth raising. Of course there is some benefit of the doubt being given here, since people seem to have remarkably short memories of all these things when they are out and about tutting and complaining about children in front of them and to their mothers.
Furthermore, I assume that people do not lay the blame for the astronomical rise in housing and living costs at the door of those parents who have the audacity to have more than two children. The Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) highlighted earlier this year that the cost of raising a child has soared by 63% over the past twelve years and now stands at an average £230,000 from birth to 21. These figures encompass huge regional variation of course. Our entire family of 6 exists on roughly half what the four children alone should cost us annually, on average. This research bears out all the other research: that huge numbers of parents now don’t feel they can even afford a sibling for their first child. But that’s another story.
Parents of multiple children will apparently not be sufficiently helped when their income fails to match these undeserved rises in costs. I dare to suggest that the reason is that there is no public will to challenge or change the greed and corruption currently holding sway in our government and elites and, let’s be honest, to some extent in our own minds.
However, I hold out hope that this is not yet the case. And in the meantime I refer this interesting proposal to the Honourable Member: