Alex Massie

Osborne vs Upper-Class* Subsidy Junkies

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Fraser is quite right: it is absurd that higher-rate tax-payers are paid child benefit. Ben Brogan is also right to note - though of course he uses some pretty extreme examples - that some people will lose from this measure.

But this is not the case of the "squeezed middle", it's removing an upper-class benefit. Reading the Daily Telegraph you could be forgiven for thinking that half the country pays tax at the 40% rate. In fact just 10% of taxpayers make it to that bracket (though a rather higher percentage of families do). Certainly, the coalition's plans will "hit" stay-at-home mothers in the stockbroker belt but, as the FT points out, that's the virtue of this plan, not its vice.

You can't possibly cut public spending without targetting the subsidised-wealthy. As the Chancellor says: “It’s very hard to justify taxing people on much lower incomes in order to pay the child benefit to some of the better off in our society.” Quite.

Does this break a campaign promise? Yes. But it's a campaign promise that should never have been made in the first place. Politically - as well as morally - however, it needs to be presented as part of a longer-term simplification of the tax-and-benefits regime in which, eventually, the government will lower the overall tax burden while also reducing the number of payments and baubles it hands out to favoured groups. A flatter, simpler system would probably be a better system...

*Upper-Income is possibly a better way of putting-it. Even in a headline...

UPDATE: Iain Martin makes the case for the prosecution and makes it well, arguing that the Tories are forgetting about "strivers". Perhaps. And, yes, Iain's right to say that not everyone who makes £44,000 a year can really be considered "rich". But they're evidently richer than most, even if they face struggles of their own and the suggestion that you can have public-spending cuts that only hurt other people does not seem especially ethical. There's always a good argument for why you can't do this or that but, really, why are so many right-of-centre commentators suddenly defending universal benefits?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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