Sunday, 16 April 2017

Off with the Cap!

It is always worse if you have first hand experience of a particularly cruel government policy.

My day to day work now is mainly in the area of family law and accordingly I regularly see people whose relationships have recently broken up.

A standard scenario is meeting a woman with children who has been working part time, in order to discharge child responsibilities, while her departed husband or partner worked full time. And her immediate concern is how she'll survive on a much reduced family income; pay her bills; feed her kids.

And for the last fifteen years plus one of my first pieces of advice has been to check her eligibility for Tax Credits. On any number of occasions this has led to a realisation that her financial position is not as bleak as it first appeared. Thanks for the advice regularly follows. Only my belief that politics has no place in professional life forbids the response "Don't thank me, thank Gordon Brown."

Tax Credits were one of the greatest successes of the last Labour Government. Between their introduction in 1998/99 and the Tories initial assault on them after 2012/13, they reduced the percentage of children living in poverty from 35% to 19%. And 65% of all Tax Credit recipients ARE WORKING! A much higher percentage still of those with children all aged five or over.

The value of Tax Credits has already been reduced, but the most recent restriction, from 6th April past, is the most outrageous. Unless already born, from that date Child Tax Credits will only be paid in respect of the first two children.

Now the stated logic of this policy is to discourage poor people from having children but that's an absurd logic. WE SHOULD BE ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO HAVE CHILDREN!  The current birthrate for all women in the UK is 1.9 children. Think that through. Continuation of that trend will see the population fall. While, not only will we have fewer young people but, thanks to advances in medical science, we will have more old people. This is demographic madness. And if you are the sort of Tory who obsesses with immigration it is madder still. For the major reason we need these immigrants is that we do not have enough young people "of our own" to pick our crops, produce our goods or provide our basic public services.

But, the Tories might argue, we can't have "all these people" having children "the rest of us" have to pay for. They seize on the idea that there are "Welfare Queens" out there with teamless broods brought into this world, and then brought up within it, with a casual disregard for "conventional norms".

But this is nonsense! Sure there are a few people like this but the idea they are motivated by money ascribes to them a degree of calculation that belies everything else about the way they live their lives. And, anyway, their circumstance is already sanctioned by the benefit cap and even then, frankly, it is less than clear what anyone gains from making their children even poorer than they already are.

BUT THAT'S NOT EVEN THE POINT! For 68%, (68%!!!!) of those hit by the two child tax credit cap have the, hardly wholly irresponsible, number of three (three!!!!) children.

And, anyway, anyway, other than very much at the margins, if this idea is really motivated by the lunatic idea of discouraging children, IT WON'T WORK! For people generally have as many children as they think they can cope with. They don't sit down in advance with an abacus to calculate the financial consequences. And, as in the working example I provided above, they often bring children into the world without a thought for a moment that they might, one day, ever need to claim Tax Credits.

No, the crude reason the Tories are cutting Tax Credits is that they wish to cut public expenditure. They need to reduce the deficit and, being Tories, raising taxes is not a viable option. Anymore than, for electoral reasons, they would ever hit those most easily able to afford it, better off pensioners. So, instead, they intend to make already poor people even poorer and, on their own figures, by the time the policy works through, save "up to" £3.1 Billion per annum.

Now, on the face of it, Labour and the SNP are both equally opposed to this policy. Both Parties certainly voted against it in the Westminster Parliament.

Except we are both in opposition in the Westminster Parliament. But at Holyrood the SNP are in Government. And, since September 2016, the Holyrood Parliament has the power to reinstate these cuts. But, strangely, the SNP shows no inclination to use this power.

When I first raised this on Twitter, I was accused by no less than a SNP Member of Parliament of talking "mince" but, that tactic having failed, the Nats new objection suddenly was that if they did so they would either have to raise taxes or find the money from cutting elsewhere. Well, indeed. Isn't that what both our Parties are supposedly calling on the Tories to do at Westminster? One of us at least sincerely.

Instead the Nats have decided to work themselves into a faux frenzy over the so called "rape exemption", which is in reality a very minor and humane exception to what is an otherwise appalling policy. Insofar as I understand their supposed argument, it appears that they object to people claiming the exemption having to fill in (in confidence) a form that contains a number of personal questions. Well, here's something else from my professional experience. If you claim Criminal Injuries Compensation for being raped you have to fill in such a form. Is it the policy of anybody in any Party that rape victims should be denied such compensation to avoid that regrettable form filling necessity?

Frankly, this a crude distraction from the real scandal. The failure of the SNP to use the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament to relieve a crude attack on the poor. Because as always, the Nationalists social democratic mantle seldom survives much examination. For, again as always, they are not really interested in solutions, only in stoking grievance. For a flag.

So Labour should take the initiative here. Lay down a Holyrood motion condemning the Westminster policy but calling on the Scottish Government to act. Let's see how the Nats vote then.

1 comment:

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