‘Why I think Katie Price deserves benefits’
Rosie Millard is a commentator and critic who has worked for the BBC, the New Statesman and The Times. Her first novel, The Square, will be published in August.
Katie Price got an earful on Big Brother when she revealed that she accepts benefits for her disabled son. But Rosie Millard believes the state should support everybody – even the very rich.
Yet again, the ferocious goldfish bowl that is Celebrity Big Brother has expertly jabbed its televisual finger at the issues that galvanise the nation. In this case, the moot point brought up by public icons/utter nobodies (take your pick) is whether private wealth excludes you from claiming public services. Deliciously, this latest spat involves a) two women who share the same first name and b) two women who share a 'Marmite' accolade. I’m referring of course to Katie Price — model, author, accomplished horsewoman and mother of five – and Katie Hopkins, self-appointed scourge of the left, ex-Apprentice contestant and mother of three.
The Katies started out in the Big Brother house as besties, but the atmosphere has since descended into something a bit more bestial. Essentially, Hopkins has condemned Price after discovering that Price’s disabled son Harvey, who is autistic and blind, is conveyed every day from the Price mansion in West Sussex to a special school in Wimbledon, south London, in a taxi paid for by the state. The round trip is about 100 miles and, in a normal minicab, would cost around £650 a week. There is also a special needs nurse in the cab. Price’s personal fortune is worth something in the region of £40m.
The fact that Harvey is being looked after by the state at considerable cost to the taxpayer really got Hopkins’ goat. Later, she explained her position. ‘I’ve always held dear that if you can afford to pay for something, you should, and you shouldn’t rely on the Government.’
“There is no wealth in the world which can assuage the difficulties of bringing up a disabled child.”
Really? On a week when the dreaded January tax bill has landed in the in-boxes of the nation, it might be a reminder that some of our taxes do go to pay for worthy causes. Taking a disabled child to school and back every day might well be considered one of them.
Yet does wealth matter? Should Price be means-tested, as all parents claiming child benefit have been, and should the size of her personal fortune mean that she has effectively bankrolled herself out of the public health and education system? Or, as a taxpayer, is she entitled to what she can get?
I think she is. If Price’s fortune disallows her from claiming assistance with bringing up a disabled child, does this mean that everyone whose personal income is more than, say, £150,000 per annum should be barred from entry to the local library, treatment from the National Health Service or state education for their children?
In the Hopkins world, if you can pay for it, you have a moral obligation to do so. Yet surely one of the great standpoints of our society, at least since the end of the last war, is that there are some benefits which are universal. Education. Health. Literacy. Policing. Ambulances.
If Hopkins were knocked down by the 91 bus, would she reach over from her stretcher en route to University College Hospital and say ‘No! No! I can afford to pay for this emergency care, so I will pay for it’? Of course not.
If we as a nation feel that the well off should be precluded from the assistance of the state, then we cannot complain when they pull away and form their own little non-dom island. We can’t have it both ways. I am rather glad that Price is relying on the state to deliver her child to and from school every day. As she herself has pointed out, there is no wealth in the world which can assuage the difficulties of bringing up a disabled child.
- Is it wrong for rich people to claim benefits from the state?
- Make a list of state-provided services and divide them into those that only poorer people should get and those that should be free for all.
- Autism is a genetic developmental condition that impairs people’s ability to communicate with others. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects people to hugely varying extents: some people with autism are able to live entirely independent and ordinary lives, while others cannot talk at all and require 24-hour care.
- A means-tested benefit goes only to people who can prove they require assistance from the state (with income or resources below a defined limit) — that is, wealthy individuals do not receive it. Child benefits became means tested in 2013.
- The last war
- After World War Two, Clement Attlee’s Labour government massively expanded access to public services and state benefits, creating what became known as the welfare state. Its most famous and celebrated component is the NHS.
- Short for non-domicile: British citizens with homes abroad who do not pay UK tax on their foreign earnings.