Whatever happened to universal benefits?

David Cameron had got himself into a right old pickle trying to shave a few billion from the Government’s deficit by trying to means test what used to be universal benefits. Equally desperate to be seen to be frugal and fair he has found himself with a policy which may save £1B from the benefit bill but blatantly discriminates against his beloved Squeezed Middle. Child Benefit, the old Family Allowance, a universal payment which was payed to mothers whatever their or their husband’s income, used to be considered sacrosanct and beyond reach of Treasury scissors.   Championed by landed dowagers and penniless single mums alike it was considered the one universal safety net which enabled women of all classes and income, to pay for nappies, milk and food for their children, no matter what. Jobs, homes, credit cards, bank accounts and husbands can all disappear, but if a woman has access to a Post Office she can always feed her children, and that knowledge alone gives freedom and security. But from April, unless the policy is changed, any woman who lives in a household where one parent earns more that £44,000 will lose Child Benefit. It sounds pretty fair and straightforward until you realise that it means in a family where both parents earn just up to the limit – say £40,000 each, the woman keeps the benefit. This has got the politicians into a right old spin trying to either justify or untangle a policy which blatantly, though unintentionally, benefits the rich. What to do? There isn’t a simple, fair answer – the logistics of means testing a two parent family as a whole would probably cost more than the cuts would save (the £44,000 limit is what pushes earners into the top tax bracket so it’s easy to track) and they can’t fairly push it through as it is. Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics and respect the principle of universal benefit and leave well alone – what do you think? Facebook KidStart or Tweet @livingwithkids.