I'm afraid that my CYNICAL response to the news that Master Gideon is cutting Universal Child Benefit from Higher Rate taxpayers was to anticipate that Hard Labour would issue a press release about half an hour later decrying it as "an attack on the very poorest in society".
I was WRONG.
It took them a bit more than half an hour.
Yes, apparently it's "an attack on already hard pressed families" and yes apparently it's "an attack on women".
What happened to the OPTIMISM, Mr Potato Ed?
Is there ANY measure that you wouldn't attack as "an attack"?
How can we HOPE to balance the Budget without cutting anything for anyone ever?
Look, this is BAD. Really it is. I can think of HALF-A-DOZEN good reasons off the top of my fluffy head for having Universal Benefits.
1. Incentive. If people think that the reward for working hard and being thrifty is to LOSE out, then you don't give 'em any reason to work hard. It's the problem Mr Iain Drunken Swerve is wrestling with in the Benefit Reforms.
2. Involvement. The FLIP-SIDE of that is that the people who DO work hard are the ones you are asking to pay out for other people. We're a RICH country, and we all like to feel we do our bit to help each other. But the less that the people doing the paying feel that there is anything that they get back, the more they're going to think "what's in it for me?" You need an incentive for people to pay in too, or you get resentment, and eventually they won't pay, and then you have a problem.
3. Reach. We all know that means tested benefits do not reach all the people who need them, whether it's because people are too proud to ask, or intimidated by a system that they are not equipped (or educated) to cope with, or through simple ignorance or through error by the state. Universal benefits are easy to operate and much more likely to bypass all these hurdles and actually HELP the people who need help.
4. Protection. Lastly there is the TERRIBLE TRUTH that even in the better off families (oooh, paging Downton Abbey!) sometimes mummies can find themselves in POVERTY because their partner keeps tight control of the purse strings. Child Benefit bypasses THAT too by going straight to mummies, and can often be a LIFELINE. The way this works (the benefit is ONLY withdrawn from mummies who THEMSELVES earn more than forty-four "k") ought to mitigate against that being affected here.
5. Simplicity. Anything other than giving a simple payment to everyone is COMPLICATED and needs a BUREAUCRACY to operate it. THAT is clearly why Master Gideon has opted for this cack-handed method of picking only Higher Rate earners to lose the benefit which results in the seemingly PERVERSE outcome that better off HOUSEHOLDS might keep the benefit if two earners separately earn less than the Higher Rate threshold but together earn more.
6. Divisiveness. Treating RICH and POOR differently is only going to EXACERBATE the friction in our society. It helps LABOUR of course, in their DEEP DENIAL that THEY did anything wrong, to keep adding fuel to the fires of mutual resentment, pouring more blame on "the bankers" or "the top 10%".
(I am, incidentally, getting really BORED by the mendacious argument increasingly coming from left-of-centre commentators: "such-and-such an article/minister/newspaper spoke of something affecting the middle class; well, median income is actually twenty thousand pounds and they're talking about people earning forty or fifty grand – that's the top ten percentile". The MIDDLE CLASS is NOT measured by MEDIAN INCOME. These are two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT things. Traditionally, there have been VASTLY more working class people than either middle OR upper class. So OBVIOUSLY the median income would be bound to lie somewhere in the middle of the WORKING CLASS. Even today, with a LOT more people doing "white collar" work it would be REALLY SURPRISING it the ENTIRE upper half of the income distribution were "middle class", don't you think? "Class" is not a simple measure of how much you earn; it is INCREDIBLY complicated to define, depending on heritage, family, ownership and the relationship to land and income generating activates. You are NOT "upper class" if you earn in the top ten percent. You're not EVEN upper class if you earn in the top ONE percent. It just doesn't work that way, and it's simply WRONG to have a go at people for addressing "middle-class concerns" by saying they are focusing on "the rich".
And while I'm ON the subject of idiotic comparisons… saying the Mr Potato Ed won "more votes than either Captain Clegg or Mr Balloon" is as STUPID as saying "well Mr Jensen Button won his World Championship race by travelling a LOT further than Mr Sir Chris Hoy did in the Olympics."
Sorry, where was I. Oh yes…)
The ADMITTED PROBLEM with all Universal Benefits is that they are, by any measure, a bit WASTEFUL. If you hose money over the country to make sure that you cover all eventualities, you're bound to wash quite a lot of it over people who don't technically NEED it.
Not EVERY pensioner needs a winter fuel allowance to avoid fuel poverty, nor a bus pass to get out and about.
Targeted benefits are technically better because they can FOCUS the money onto the people who need it more. If the system works. If they apply for it.
So you have to work it out: does the COST of the bit that you are wasting by making a benefit Universal OUTWEIGH the BENEFIT of reaching people who really need it?
This is where I come down on the side of KEEPING the Universal Child Care. I think it's worth the money.
But then, I'D restore the personal tax allowance to people earning over a hundred thousand pounds too because taking that away is saying that rich people should be treated as different.
Well, actually, I'd go further than that and have a Citizen's Income and do away with benefits altogether, if only the numbers could be made to add up, because that way EVERYONE would get something and I can trust them to get on with their lives their own way without having to make them jump through hoops to satisfy ME that they are DESERVING.
You see, that's because LIBERALS are the REAL OPTIMISTS; not Hard Labour or Mr Potato Ed. Hard Labour are PESSIMISTIC about PEOPLE – they believe that people are BAD at making decisions, that people will get things WRONG if they are not TOLD what to do. I am an OPTIMIST. I trust people to get it RIGHT.
But here's the KICKER.
The numbers DON'T add up. Hard Labour – yes we have to keep saying it – spent all the money. In fact, they spent all THEIR money and rather a lot of OURS too, what with the hundred and twenty MILLION pounds a day we're spending on THEIR interest payments.
So it would cost a BILLION pounds (each year) to keep the Universal Child Benefit UNIVERSAL. And that would mean cutting a BILLION pounds from somewhere else. Housing benefit? Unemployment benefit? Invalidity benefit? The pension? Do YOU want to choose?
This is the real WICKEDNESS of Hard Labour's "attack" attacks.
Every cut that they say we mustn't do, they're ACTUALLY saying: "do it to someone else".
So it's not right. But everything else is worse. And
PS:My Daddies do not get Child Benefit because for some reason the Government does not pay out for boys with soft toys. I'm sure Hard Labour could spin this as an attack on something too.