In his speech to the Tory party conference yesterday David Cameron used the argument that “it’s fair those with broader shoulders should bear a greater load” as justification for the removal of child benefit from higher earners.
The appeal to “broader shoulders” is one of those statements that everyone, apart from the most ardent libertarian, would no doubt find themselves in sympathy with.
But how does that principle lead logically to the removal of child benefit as the solution? This proposal doesn’t actually raise vast sums of money. But it represents an assault on the principle of universalism upon which the welfare state is founded.
There are other mechanisms that could be used to raise the same amount of money from those with broad shoulders but which do not challenge any fundamental principles. If progressive taxation is too much to stomach then fiddling with tax relief or tax allowances could have raised the same amount of money while attracting less political flak.
This approach would also have avoided some of the anomalies thrown up by the child benefit proposal – such as dual earner households with higher combined income, but who individually stay below the threshold, getting to keep their child benefit.
Such an alternative couldn’t be construed as so obviously penalising women. And it asks single childless households, who typically have fewer calls on their income, and hence the broadest shoulders of all, to pay their share.
One can only conclude that the point of the exercise is neither raising money nor the drive for fairness suggested by the references to broad shoulders. The point must be that it is a Trojan Horse for the further dismantling of the welfare state.
All the more reason to resist whenever and however possible.
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