Alex Massie

The Child Benefit Rumpus Cont.

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The case against George Osborne's plan to eliminate Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers runs roughly like this: We work hard, we're successful -  in fact we pay most of the income tax collected in this country -  and we produce the children who will help pay for everyone's pensions and now we're the ones targetted by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer? Why are we being penalised for having children?

And yes, one can see why this would grate. According to this way of thinking Child Benefit is a small, but often very useful, rebate that is a kind of reward for Doing the Right Thing. It's a thank you from the state that's neither quite a luxury nor a necessity. Again, one can see why people would take this view. And, yes, of course a single-earner family with three kids living in London and earning £45,000 is not likely to be taking many family holidays to Tuscany. So, again, one can understand the howls of indignation, even fury, that this proposal has occasioned.

But as Tyler Cowen says, these are interesting times: the UK is the first Western country in recent memory to attempt a comprehensive overhaul of its welfare state. This means it's going to be a messy, protracted, sometimes piecemeal and sometimes unfair business. Anomalies will abound. (Of course they also abound at present but, by virtue of being customary, established anomalies are much more acceptable than new ones.)

Nevertheless, if you were starting from scratch would you really take the view that what the country needs to do is collect its taxes and then use those taxes to send child-support cheques to every family in the country, regardless of need? Such an approach seems needlessly complicated and, in its way, intrusive (since once the state starts paying its citizens in this fashion it furthers the case for interference in many other aspects of life).

Wouldn't it be simpler just to let the citizenry keep more of their money in the first place?

Instead we have Guardian journalists complaining that "not since China's one-child rule has there been such a penalty for having kids."

Again, if you were designing a welfare state now would you really think it sensible to be handing out state benefits to people on twice the average national wage? I suspect not. And when people earning nearly £50,000 a year are demanding state benefits and receiving a more than sympathetic hearing hasn't something gone rather wrong somewhere along the line?

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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