In a furious attack on the Government's child benefit cuts, Angela Epstein writes: 'It’s outrageous. My family is losing child benefit just for earning 100k'
23:55 GMT, 31 October 2012
For nearly 20 years I’ve been on benefits. Despite earning a good salary as a journalist and broadcaster and being married to a chartered accountant, the Government money lands in my account each month. I accept it happily, without so much as a twitch of embarrassment.
I’m not alone. I have friends who are lawyers, doctors, pharmacists — all highly paid professionals — who are also unapologetic in their receipt of these state handouts.
I’m not talking about a tax loophole or state backhander that allows the streetwise to filch from an already over-committed welfare state. I am, of course, referring to child benefit.
Selfish: Writer Angela Epstein at home with three of her four children
This has always been a one-size-fits-all payment, which is not affected by the level of income coming into a household.
This counts as recognition by the tax system that, as parents, we deserve a little help in supporting our families, regardless of our gross income.
For people like me and my husband, it also means that those who plough a lot into the system are guaranteed to get at least a little out.
But now, just because my children are growing up in a household where both their mother and father earn a decent living, the State wants to renege on its part of the deal.
As part of the Coalition’s austerity programme of spending cuts, a million households in the UK — the wealthiest 15 per cent — will soon wave goodbye to this helping hand.
In a disgraceful act of financial myopia, the Government is axing or partially axing the broad entitlement of family allowance.
Any household where one parent earns more than 50,000 a year will lose a proportion of the benefit on a sliding scale — 1 per cent for every 100 earned over this threshold. Those earning more than 60,000 lose all of their benefit.
In our house, that means our benefit payments will soon be no more than a childhood memory since my salary hovers around 50,000 and my husband’s is significantly more.
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No longer eligible for the monthly payments, we will be left with the invidious choice of either giving it up completely or continuing to take the benefit and then having it clawed back from us when we fill in our tax forms for the financial year.
I understand that we are going through a time of great financial difficulty in this country and that sacrifices must be made to get us back on track.
But why should my children lose out, simply because their parents have had the temerity to work hard and earn a good living
It’s the one payment everyone in society receives, and makes us all feel like the State is behind family life.
Child benefit was introduced as a tax-free payment aimed at helping parents cope with the cost of bringing up children. Inferred in its genesis was a moral as well as financial responsibility.
For as any parent can tell you, the cost of bringing up children is never-ending.
If the State commits itself to showing support for the financial security of the family, what right has it to discriminate against those of us with a higher salary Why should we forfeit such protection
Child benefit is as rightfully mine as it for the chap I know whose property company nets him 150,000 a year and for the woman I see on the school run who works as a supermarket cashier. It is a moral imperative. Either we all get it or none of us do.
There are those who may well protest that if you earn at least 50,000 then surely you can’t possibly even notice the money — which by the way is 20.30 a week for the first child and 13.40 for each extra one until they are 18.
And since my eldest son Sam, 19, is now away at university and his brother Max, 17, is hoping to do the same next year, child benefit for my other two children, Aaron, 14, and Sophie, eight, will soon be worth only 1,752 a year.
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But it’s astonishing how handy this money becomes. As one friend pointed out, child benefit has gone a long way towards school uniform, school trips and all the other enduring costs of raising children.
I have certainly found it to be so. Over the years, those several thousand pounds have paid for both the expected and collateral expenses of child-rearing, such as swimming lessons and never-ending supplies of stationery.
My child benefit goes into a domestic account and, as it mounts up, I use it only for what my children need.
A trip to Clarks for the start of the school term last month cost nearly 100. There was something quite heartening to think the State was directly responsible for ensuring my children had shoes.
A friend of mine whose husband works in sales for a salary of around 52,000 and who stays at home to raise their young baby, is already deeply worried about the cuts.
She pointed out that the 80-or-so a month she receives makes a significant difference, if only for the monthly nappies and formula milk bill. It also makes her feel as if she is contributing something to the family pot.
I have always respected my child benefit, even when, as the years passed, its value began to diminish as my salary increased.
When Sam was born 19 years ago, I was making pennies as a trainee reporter while my husband was scratching around trying to set up his own business.
The extra monthly pay check made a difference. The money was set aside for the needs of our baby son, as it has been for his siblings ever since.
So what if gradually more money came into the pot. The State had pledged its support for all parents. Why should that change
Aside from all emotional arguments, on a practical level, junking child benefit is a ludicrous move.
Under the new rules, two breadwinning parents who each earn 49,000 will keep all of their child benefit. But a couple, in which one person earns 60,000, lose all of theirs.
Meanwhile, the end of child benefit for the so-called squeezed middle will leave in its wake a tax system in which a man (or woman) supporting a partner and children will be treated the same as someone on the same income with absolutely no dependants. How can this be anything other than a grotesque perversion of our benefit system
What’s more, how on earth can the taxman uncover whether unmarried couples are a family unit if they do not declare this Is this not an open temptation to lie Suddenly, your partner could just be a lodger, a friend, a one-night stand or an old flame passing through for old times’ sake.
But if you’re married — as I have been for 22 years — it’s easy for the taxman to see your financial affairs and check on your details.
So, once again, those of us who believe in matrimony for the stability of the family (oh, the irony) are being penalised by the State.
Removing child benefit from higher-earning families rests on the point of discrimination: earn more and the State will give your children less. Yet the State is already squeezing our children every which way it can.
University tuition fees for our eldest, now a medical student, are a massive 9,000 a year.
And what’s to stop discrimination bleeding elsewhere, dismantling other universal benefits
Take state education — which for the moment (at least) is free. You can almost hear them clucking over their calculators in Whitehall: if one pupil’s father is a dentist and the other has a badly paid job, should education be free for both
And why should a GP treat both the child of a road sweeper and the child of a City banker for nothing, when the latter could so clearly afford to pay
Why Because my children are no different to yours and child benefit is as much mine as it is yours. To cut it is a direct strike on parents who have done nothing more than work hard for their families, and pay their taxes.
Silly me for thinking all children were equal. In the lamentable eyes of our Government, some it seems are more equal than others.