Monday, August 16, 2010

The Madness of Our Benefits System

Yesterday the News of the World highlighted the case of the Davison family. The parents don't work. And who could blame them? They would have to have a joint salary of £67,000 to match what they get in state benefits. To be fair to Mr and Mrs Davison they say they would really like to find work, but Mr Davison hasn't had a job for the last 13 years.
So the state funds what I can only describe as their children habit. They have ten, ranging from three year old Trinity to 20 year old Amy. They receive £20,280 in child tax credits alone.
Why is it that they seemed to give no thought to the fact that they did not have the income to support so many children before they had them? You'd have thought by the time three year old Trinity came along the penny might have dropped.
Children are not a human right. It's irresponsible to have so many children if you haven't the means to support them. I'd have thought that was something which we could all agree on, no matter what our politics.
This case illustrates the difficulties facing Iain Duncan Smith in trying to reform the welfare system. You can't blame people for not working if the state encourages them not to.
Photo credit: News of the World


davidmorris said...

That's complete madness! I'm amazed that they're allowed to have that much. What happened to having fewer children and going to find a job - like many other people around the country.

Steve C said...

iain, you think that the far left/bleeding heart liberals think that it is irresponsible to bring children into the world you can't afford to look after?? I thought you had been around politics long enough to know better.
NO - their view is that you should do what you like and if there are adverse consequences to doing what you like the state (i.e the tax payers) should happily foot the bill to show how nice, kind and liberal we all are!!
Remember, these are the people for whom ALL criminals are victims in one way or another so having too many kids which is not a criminal offence is certainly totally acceptable to them.

James said...

A woman on thew next street has had 10 children, all taken from her at birth due to mental concerns.

I guess enforced sterilization is rather oppresive but it does beg the question what a right leaning state should be doing about these thorny issues.

Fenrir said...

They don't look as if they go hungry to feed and clothe their children either.

DJMarkM said...

I see they have plenty of money for food!

Tim Footman said...

Do the right-wing tabloids pay these welfare case study families for their interviews? And if they do, aren’t they just adding to the problem, making a life on welfare the most profitable avenue?

Ed. said...

Iain, I understand your disquiet, but it would be equally worrying for the state to play a role in people having less children than they wanted. Perhaps if levels of child benefit/tax credits were linked to both wages and hours worked, this man would feel motivated to support his family. In any case, the battle is to ensure that the children work not only to supprt their own families, but also to support older people and people who genuinely can't work due to disability.

Rob said...

We should learn something from China and set a limit, charge people for having more kids. Force abortions onto women and turn a blind eye to a little infanticide now and again too!

Unsworth said...

Have Mr and Mrs Davison found out what's causing these children yet?

Johnny Norfolk said...

We need to reuce the population. We should not pay for more than 2 children.

Judy said...

The UN Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion. It may not be to your liking but certain religions or religious groups, such as Roman Catholics and strictly Orthodox Jews forbid the use of birth control, and, in the case of the latter, command the believer to "be fruitful and multiply".

So I think the family does potentially have the right to have as many or as few children as they wish. One of the reasons this country is dependent on continuing immigration is our very low birth rate.

One of the reasons China is such an oppressive country is it forbids the bearing of more than one child. Trying to regulate the number of children parents can have is always the mark of tyrannical dictatorship. And how many is deemed OK in your eyes? And why should you be the judge of that?

The issue of what the state does to support families is a different one. But to say the state will only support up to three, four or five children is arbitrary, potentially tyrannical and also positively short sighted, when the country needs future potential workers and wage earners and would benefit from a wider young population base.

Victorian do gooders and Tory politicians of the day were very fond of using eugenicist and Malthusian arguments like yours to rail against what they saw as the dangerous and unchecked breeding habits of the lower classes. I don't see that much difference in your arguments.

The benefits system is certainly in need of reform, but however well it's reformed, there will never be a perfect system, and there will always be cases that the press can use to provoke outrage amongst those who don't care to think the issues through.

Tying benefits to numbers of children is problematic. But it is even more problematic to change the legislation to ensure that the children in the largest families will be economically disadvantaged in their benefits entitlement compared with those in smaller families.

Enforced sterilization, eh? Yes, the Chinese, the Nazis, the Australians vis a vis the Aborigines and the US southern states vis a vis the blacks... Great stuff, just exactly what we need here, because look what great societies resulted.

Paddy Briggs said...

I entirely agree with your post Iain. As a child of the sixties, the decade when I inched fitfully towards adulthood, unintended pregancy in my peer group became very rare indeed - for obvious prophylactic reasons. Some of us chose never to have children; some chose to have one or two - or (rarely) three. None have chosen to breed like rabbits.

My Victorian Grannie was one of 13 - (a) No easy form of contraception (b) Her parents could afford to keep the 13.

The Davisons have no right at all to have 10 children and for the State (me as a taxpayer) to indulge them. And there is no need either - contraception is free. But IDS has indeed one hell of a challenge. How can you stop the likes of the Davisons without being disciminatory and illiberal?

P. Stable said...

The big problem is that it's not the kids' fault they were born to feckless parents. It's easy to say "no benefits after the third child" or whatever, but that ends up punishing the children for something they have no control over.

In the meantime, I see another taxpayer-funded family is spending up to £28,000 of OUR cash getting a brand-new granite-topped kitchen installed in their taxpayer-funded home, simply because the mother in the family didn't like the old one! Step forward, renowned benefit scroungers David and Samantha Cameron...

John East said...

Ian, however much I agree with your sentiments, this family are to be praised for acting logically within the situation in which they find themselves, and securing an income which I doubt they could better by any other means.
Was it not Adam Smith who said something along the lines that a successful society evolves from individuals exercising rational self interest?
The only answer to the above connundrum is of course to remove the irrationality from the equation, big government, and to provide families like these with a different set of circumstances against which to exercise their rational self interest.

Cutting their benefits to zero would be a start.

aiusepsi said...

I do like the stereotyping of the left that we think it's a good idea for people to be living on benefits, which it clearly isn't. The left is in a great part about getting a good deal for the common worker; by definition one cannot be a worker without working! Throwing up strawmen isn't exactly conducive to having a sensible discussion on how to deal with this problem.

Only trouble is that we're between a rock and a hard place; it would be impossibly repressive to prevent people from having children (and that's leaving aside the issue that although we require you to pass a test to operate a car, the far more dangerous task of creating a person is open to all) and some people who cannot afford children are unavoidably going to have children, and will suffer the consequences of their parents' stupidity (poverty, for instance) unless there is state intervention.

An occasionally inefficient welfare system seems to me to be the lesser of three evils. If you can suggest a better system, that'd be great.

Richard Manns said...

@ Ed

"...but it would be equally worrying for the state to play a role in people having less children than they wanted."

Enforced sterilisation, and extra taxation per child, would be the only way the state could do what you say. See China for an example.

And, arguably, in forcibly taking resources from citizens, the State prevents wealthier people from having the resources to bring up children in the way they desire.

MikeyP said...


Absolute tosh. No-one should have more children than they can afford to support, not matter what THEY want.

The Yorkshire Terrorist said...

While this certainly runs contrary to middle-class sensibilities, could it not simply be the case that the parents aren't the brightest sparks in the world, and genuinely have no comprehension that what they are doing will offend so many people?

Besides that, I don't want to be part of a society that allows children to go hungry or be homeless just because their parents are somewhat lacking in the feck department. It's not their fault, and they deserve to be looked after. Punishing the parents, as is so often the call from the right-wing media would mean punishing the children much harder.

pete-s said...

Wait for the bleedin' hearts to come out when our bonkers benefits system is attempted to be reformed. 'Child poverty' will be the cry, some tough decisions have to be made.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Smug parasites.

Elliott Burton said...

I have been saying for years that the state should only provide any benefit for the first two children...after that if you have any more then you need to be able to provide for them yourselves...I would also stop young girls who get pregnant from automatically getting a council house...they should remain living with their parents as long as there is the room...that might stop some of these young girls getting pregnant as a career choice.

Morlock said...

"Why is it that they seemed to give no thought to the fact that they did not have the income to support so many children before they had them?"

No doubt they did; and they do.

They just don't have to work to gain that income.

With the current welfare state, their behaviour is perfectly predictable and logical; they are indeed behaving as rational economic actors.

If you don't approve, change the damn system. Dropping Child Tax Credits altogether would certainly appear to be a measure that might help...

Wrinkled Weasel said...

It is not question of individual cases but a snapshot of a mindset that allows Kirsty Wark and others to cry "CUTS" and the top of her voice, as if the Coalition are about to introduce mass sterilisation and compulsory elocution lessons.

Society either gives passive approval to these issues, or not. The last 13 years have been a saga of about some very stupid but very powerful people, who really have no stake in the future of Britain, who have seen to it that the culture of state hand-outs has ballooned.

The absurdity of those who see these hand-outs as "rights", when espousing not one shred of responsibility, is merely a reflection of the spend spend spend zeitgeist. Can you blame them?

Raedwald said...

Given that every woman in the population needs to bear 2.1 children over her lifetime to maintain the population, Mrs Davison has just made up for 3.8 childless Lesbians and has prevented us from having to import the same number of Somalis to wipe the bottoms of our elderly population.

Having said that, if benefits were reduced she'd no doubt give them away, like surplus puppies, to good homes.

starfish said...

Another case where the welfare system encourages peverse behaviour

This country has no need for increased poipulation (and ignore anyone that says we need lots of young people to look after old people - that is nonsense, most of them are looked after by family or middle-aged people on part time working)

The benefits system should not encourage large families

Therefore anything over 2 is up to you - no increased child benefits etc - and no to larger houses too. If you want 7 kids fine, go find your own house as the state stops providing anything larger than 3 bedroms

Why must the state pander to everyone's fanatasies of what family life should be?

Barrie Singleton said...

The task is almost impossible. IDS backed Tony's war because Tony impressed him. To my mind, this shows that IDS lacks understanding of humankind. Hardly the man for the job.

Benny said...

@P.Stable - Utter piffle! David and Samantha Cameron are paying for the kitchen refurbishment entirely out of their own pocket so read up before you post comments like that.

trevorsden said...

Shouldn't Trinity really be named 'Decima'

the problem is not that they have had 10 children but are being disproportionately rewarded for having them.
I presume that the benefits they get are proportional to 67K before tax. Should not the state be limited to giving the equivalent of national minimum wage plus the usual child benefits?

The local authority has an obligation to provide housing - but again this ought not to stretch to anything special or indeed to all in one house.

In work or out of it - children come with associated benefits. This family look happy enough but the case of baby P seems to me to indicate that for some low lifes the child is just a meal ticket. Benefits should clearly be spent on the child.

Benny said...

If a family earns over X amount of benefits and they're not disabled then why shouldn't they be forced to do some work for the council. Who knows, they may take a shine for it and go work in the real world. Will keep them off their backsides and get them fit for a start.

People need to give back instead of just taking all the time.

Lord Blagger said...

It's the same with this Graduate tax.

Consider this as a proposal.

If you earn more money as a graduate, we will fine you 10,000 pounds.

A good idea or not?

It's the same as taxing them more. The grad loses cash.

Here we have yet another perverse consequence of the set up. Encourage people to have kids because there is cash in it, but penalise the responsible.

The problem is how to change it. It has to be split into two. What to do about future claims, and what to do about current claims.

For future claims, state there is a cap.

For current claims, ie, this familly, I suspect were are going to be screwed over.

One of the reasons China is such an oppressive country is it forbids the bearing of more than one child. Trying to regulate the number of children parents can have is always the mark of tyrannical dictatorship. And how many is deemed OK in your eyes? And why should you be the judge of that?

People are free to choose. However, people shouldn't be forced to pay for other people's kids.

Rexel No 56 said...

Can someone explain how one can benefit from tax credits when one is not working?

Patrick said...

cap 'em!

if the tax credits diminished rapidly after the 3rd or 4th child, then i doubt they would have had so many.

Tim Carpenter said...

The issue is the system and the way it pays out.

If you were paying your taxes and looking after your n children and you fall into poverty, e.g. widowed, the arbitrary limit on "only the first 2 kids" would be a problem and is just that, arbitrary. Genuine cases of need fall foul of this type of "rule".

However, if you are on benefits and you increase your family, then that should be your responsibility to fund AND HOUSE, not the taxpayer.

Make a mistake? Well, one has to get by just like we all have to. It will teach one not to do it again, won't it.

Right now? No lessons are learnt. Bigger houses and more money. Subsidise something, and you will get more of it.

If IDS does not do this - end expansion at the expense of the taxpayer - then this problem will not go away and the other solutions will just involve more paperwork and other mechanisms that those determined or faux helplessness will just bypass.

If IDS does not do this, then he is a fool and we are taken for fools.

Little Black Sambo said...

And the mother is evidently expecting about four more.

davidmorris said...

One other thing to remember is that the children in this case are being taught a bad life lesson. They are being shown that claiming that level of benefit is perfectly ok. If all parents were like that, the welfare state would break in a matter of seconds.

Peter said...

Mad yes, but can you really leave the children in poverty.
If you give them the same chance to succeed as other children they may all end up making a positive contribution to society.
We are in effect paying these two parents to raise kids, lets hope they do a good job.
In a free society we can do no more.

Terry Hamblin said...

It's sad to see English grammar declining. No-one seems to be able to distinguish 'fewer' from 'less' and someone thinks you can have the 'lesser' of three rather than the 'least'.

Normally this blog and the comments are well written.

P. Stable said...

Benny @ 12:52 PM

Not true - they get £28,000 per year to spend on making No 10 nice and shiny, and only have to pay out of their own pocket if the bill comes to more than that.

John Spence said...

@ Steve C

If we ever met and talked politics, you would probably consider me to be a far left / bleeding heart liberal (I'm the former, well relatively, but not the latter).

However, I think a system that allows this sort of thing to happen is grotesque (although this one example shouldn't be inflated to appear to be the norm).

If the state via the taxpayer should support children, which I believe it should, then it should only do so to the degree that it meets the needs of the state and, by extension, the wider population, i.e. the population replenishment rate.

If a couple wants more than two kids (which I believe is roughly the current rate of required replenishment), then they pay for each subsequent kid themselves with no child benefit or vouchers paid out (exceptions could possibly be made for twins/triplets etc).

Therefore, the state can make an imposition, but the individual still has a choice.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Paddy Briggs

That is the first time I have agreed with you.

TonyHendo said...

The story says they would need to earn £67k to clear the amount of money they receive in benefits.
The system needs re-structuring so that people are subject to tax on the benefits they earn. This might help bring the benefits gravy train to a halt

DailBar said...

Iain, you should consider yourselves lucky, here in Ireland its even worse, a couple on welfare receive €29.80 per week for each dependent child, for 10 children that would be €15,496 a year. They also get the universal child benefit of €150 a month per child in child benefit for the first two children, bizarrely it goes up to €187 per month for each subsequent child. Thats a total of €37,048 a year in tax free income before factoring in unemployment, housing, school book allowances etc. No wonder we're broke.

DeeDee99 said...

I was under the impression that you only get Tax Credits if you have a job. If you don't you get Income Support.

But anyway - the Coalition Government should bring in plans to limit Child Benefit so that it is only paid for the first two children born to any mother (unless the second pregnancy results in twins).

That should apply to all mothers. It might encourage our immigrant communities to limit their birthrate to the UK norm and would prevent the Karen Matthews of the country from having a child with every man they come across.

Treacle said...

Just wait till all those children start breeding. There will be 150+ grandchildren, all sponging off the state. Then in another generation there will be 2,000 of them.

Ian said...

If this couple was sensible one of them would get a part-time job of no more (but no less) than 16 hours a week. They would then by entitled to receive Working Tax Credits and could also get help towards their childcare costs.

If you are going to fleece the system (like hundreds of thousands of others) - you might as well do it properly ...

Matt Volatile said...

@DeeDee "the Coalition Government should bring in plans to limit Child Benefit so that it is only paid for the first two children born to any mother"

OK... fine. But: People are careless, unlucky, stupid, or a combination of all three. so what do you do with the mother who has three children anyway, but can't afford them? Take away the child?
let the kid starve? What's your solution to this situation, once child benefit is withdrawn?