David Davis is plainly right that the Tories are just testing the water to see how talk about capping child benefit to two children for people on the dole goes down with the punters. And the predictable result is that the water isn’t really all that cold. The suggestion has gone down nicely with quite a few, especially those – no offence folks! – who sound off on the internet. Any restrictions on welfare are popular; we know that. And it’s all too easy to think of examples of egregious fecundity on the part of people who we would probably prefer not to be parents at all: the child-killer Mick Philpott say, father of 17. As Iain Duncan Smith observes, most working families have to think hard about having children; ‘yet within the welfare system, it’s almost turned on its head, so additional children are actually recognised, with no limit.’ Yes, I can see lots of people will relate to that.
The talked-about cap would not, of course, prevent Mr Philpott and similar from begetting as many children as he likes. It would simply restrict child benefit for any future children to a maximum of two; it’s not yet clear whether the cap would apply to child tax credits. It wouldn’t apply to families getting benefit right now either. It’s not China. Still, I think the Tories should think harder and longer about this one.
For one thing, what a cap looks like is a steer from the state, not just about the desirability of paying for your own children, but about the ideal family size. We’re prepared to pay for two, it says, but not more. It looks like two is the approved size, as seen from Tory HQ, most of whose inmates can obviously afford more.