Lords fight to save child benefit for poor

A new law that would have set an upper limit on benefit payments has been blocked by Britain’s ‘Upper House’. Lords feared the new rules would push thousands of children into poverty.

The government suffered a major defeat in the House of Lords yesterday. In an attempt to tackle Britain’s so-called ‘benefits culture,’ it had proposed a reform that would have seen a cap put on the amount a household can receive in handouts.

Angry opponents to the specific terms of the cap described them as ‘a disgrace’ and ‘the worst type of vicious Tory nonsense.’ The Lords subsequently voted against the proposal by 252 to 237, meaning that the matter will have to be re-visited in the House of Commons.

The idea behind the cap, which would limit the benefits a household can receive to £26,000 per year, is that it would encourage more people to stop relying on state handouts and try harder to find employment. Most people agree with this principle, but the Lords decided this particular proposal was over-simplified and would end up doing more harm than good.

The debate centred around the inclusion of child benefits within the overall cap. Under the government’s proposal, struggling families could see their living allowance slashed by up to £190 per week. One report suggested that some large families might have to survive on just 62p per person per day. But the government argued that excluding child benefits from the cap would increase the maximum allowance to nearly £50,000, making it meaningless.

A document leaked on Saturday revealed that the benefits cap could force over 100,000 children to live below the poverty line. On the other hand, Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith pointed out that 350,000 children will be lifted out of poverty by other measures being taken as part of the overall welfare reform, but his argument clearly failed to persuade.

Clash of morals

David Cameron describes capping benefits as ‘a basic issue of fairness.’ For too long, he believes, the government has been willing to give something for nothing: to support people who do not offer anything back to our society. He sympathises with those who work long hours all week but take home less than some who don’t work at all. This reform would change the system to make it fairer for those who earn an honest living.

Some take a different moral stance. Capping housing or unemployment benefit is one thing, they say, but child benefit is there to protect children against the misfortune their parents might have suffered, or the mistakes they might have made. Regardless of how ‘unfair’ the current system might be, to punish children by forcing them to live in poverty would be more morally corrupt.

You Decide

  1. Which is more important: to make sure those who work get a fair reward, or to make sure those who don’t – or can’t – work, are protected?
  2. Is it wrong to have a large family if you rely on the state for support?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to the Lords arguing either for or against a cap on all benefits.
  2. Do some research into the cost of housing and food in your area. Draw up a weekly budget for a family of four living on £26,000 per year.

Some People Say...

“Child benefit is a human right.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How many people is this cap really going to affect?
There are around 700,000 households in the UK claiming benefits, of whom the government believes 67,000 would have their allowance reduced. For many, this would mean that they would no longer be able to afford to stay in their homes, or even in their home towns and communities. There’s also an important issue of principle.
Oh really?
Yes. Two competing ideas clashed yesterday. On the one hand – that society should be fair. On the other – that society should be compassionate. That underlying debate affects all sorts of areas in public life, from benefits, to healthcare to schools and even the tax system.

Word Watch

House of Lords
The House of Lords is one of two ‘houses’ that make up the British parliament. The Lords can reject new laws passed by the ‘Commons’. Those laws can then be modified and sent back to the Lords for a second vote, like a game of political tennis.
Benefits culture
Benefits culture is a term which some commentators use to describe what they see as a widespread view in some poor areas that it is okay to just live off the state rather than working to pay the bills. Other commentators deny that a benefits culture even exists.
Child benefits
Child benefit is a small cash payment given regularly to people who are looking after children.
Poverty line
If a household is earning less than 60% of the median income for their area, they are said to be below the poverty line.

Subjects

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