George Osborne announces that he will scrap child benefit for the highest earners, acknowledging that he knows it will cause some families pain, but hey it has to fall somewhere. Cue righteous and indignant tweeting and commenting from the Labour attack dogs. You would think the self-proclaimed party of fairness and equality might welcome the news, warming to a little hit on the highest earning families in the country, to balance the fact that so many other budget and welfare reform measures are going to hit the poorest hardest.
But no, just as they so often did when they were in government, Labour prefers to favour the middle class over those on lower incomes. And it brings back painful memories for the burd.
For I was one of the lone parents Labour whacked when it withdrew the lone parent element from child benefit in the late 1990s. In practical terms, it meant that between 1997 and 2006, two parent families on decent earnings enjoyed a huge £6.40 increase in benefit for their first child. Mine was effectively frozen apart from one paltry increase of 45p in 2000. During that time I was earning way less than the national average and I needed that money, relied on it actually to make the difference. One mum blithely told me that it was her fags and wine money; I needed it to keep us in powercards and coal.
At that time, Labour also considered taxing child benefit for the highest rate tax payers. Yes, I thought some of you might have forgotten that. It generated a lot of debate but as Osborne has just discovered, it would have created complexity in the system that would cost more in administration than the value of the tax collected.
In fact, the debate for and against universal child benefit was a fairly regular one during the Labour years. At the time, many MPs did support removing it or at least taxing it for the highest earners. But ultimately the leadership shied away from addressing the issue, fearful of upsetting the middle England vote, yet ironically few of the families affected would have missed it during the boom years. Popping up now to express concern at hurting hard working families in this way is disingenuous and dishonest, particularly when it comes without an alternative proposition.
What was it Ed promised? No opposition for opposition’s sake? Looks like you need to explain how that works to some of your troops, Ed.