Imagine, if you will, that we're eavesdropping on a couple of conversations between two British taxpayers and the Chancellor, which go something like this:
1. "Hi George - I earn £60K a year and consider myself comfortably off. My husband also has a good income (£40K a year), and now that our children have flown the nest and we've nearly paid off our mortgage, we feel we can enjoy the good life. We know about all the tough austerity measures you're having to put in place though - do you want us to contribute any more?"
2. "Hi George - I earn £60K a year and am the sole earner in our household. My wife gave up work to look after our three kids as childcare costs were so high, and even though we know we're not doing badly compared to a lot of people, money can still get pretty tight at the end of the month. Do you want us to contribute any more?"
The answers that these two taxpayers will get from the Chancellor will be quite different - and not necessarily in the way you would expect. In the first scenario, she will get a reassuring 'no.' But in the second, he will hear that, from 7 January, his family will have to give up their full child benefit entitlement, which (with three children) amounts to £2,449.20 per year. [It's important to note that those earning over £50,000 a year will also be affected and will lose some of their child benefit - on a sliding scale - but those earning over £60,000 a year will lose it altogether].
And it's this point that bothers me most about the forthcoming removal of child benefit from higher earners - notwithstanding the fact that there also appear to be some fairly serious problems (some might say 'chaos') with the administrative process of actually telling the 1.1 million families affected what they have to do and by when.
Because, while it may seem obvious on many levels that of course the government should take money from higher earners in a difficult economic environment - in particular when one of the other political debates raging at the moment is about introducing real-terms benefit cuts for those on the lowest incomes, a move likely to plunge even more children into poverty - it has always struck me as singularly unfair that the only higher earners being asked to pay more are those with children. Indeed, the government has gone out of its way to protect higher earners generally, for example reducing the top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000 a year from 50% to 45% as of April 2013.
Sadly, this chimes all too clearly with other cuts which are disproportionately affecting families with children, whether that's cuts to child tax credits, education maintenance allowance, or childcare support. And all this from a government headed by a prime minister who once pledged to make Britain "the most family-friendly country in Europe." As parents - whether on high or low incomes - look at what 2013 has in store for them and their families, that pledge is starting to sound very hollow indeed.
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