Children should suffer

Aneurin Bevan: Tories lieOne of the basics of civilisation is that children don’t have to suffer for their parents’ mistakes or inadequacies.

Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance,

Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity…

A good welfare state is the culmination of civilisation. Whether a parent is able or willing, unable or unwilling, to earn enough to meet their child’s needs, the needs of all children should be adequately met. Otherwise we are not civilised.

Healthcare: housing: food: education: children should get all of that guaranteed by all of us. Even those who present some kind of ethical argument against a universal welfare state, which ignores the existence of disadvantage and of privilege, and doesn’t care to think about accidents and ill-health and other factors that prevent a person from earning their own living: even those people can’t make any ethical argument against children being required to suffer because their parents aren’t able to provide for them.

Iain Duncan Smith’s latest welfare reform proposals includes the idea that if a low-income family has more than two children (IDS himself has four) the entire family should suffer for their parents’ unwillingness to abort subsequent pregnancies or to give children up for adoption if one or both parents lose their job. Only the very wealthy should be allowed to have more than two children: anyone who might at some time in their life need benefits, should be financially penalised for the third child.

The other anti-child scheme that IDS proposed and George “40% cuts” Osborne agreed to, was the benefits cap. The biggest part of any benefits a family is ever likely to receive, is housing benefit. Housing benefit is a government subsidy to landlords. If housing benefit falls short, a family will pay the rent – digging the shortfall out of whatever other resources they can find, food, clothing, utility bills – or be evicted. Last year over 90,000 children across the UK spent their Christmas homeless.

So long as local authorities have an obligation to rehome families in temporary housing – which they will have so long as the prosperous don’t care to be walking past children sitting in cardboard boxes – making families homeless due to a shortfall in housing benefit is far more costly to the local authority – and therefore to the taxpayer – than continuing to pay their rent in ordinary accommodation, even to a grasping private landlord. So the benefit cap isn’t going to save money, and assuming that George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith have allowed themselves to become aware of the expense of temporary housing, they know the benefit cap isn’t going to save money: it’s going to cost more.

I don’t think that Osborne or IDS care whether the benefits cap saves money or not: the cost is borne by local authorities, at a distance from national government: it’s a showy gesture of penalising the poorest families, making clear that they stand for punishing the poor, not helping families out of poverty. As a gesture, capping benefits looks well: to an undiscerning eye, it seems as if it should save money.

John Major happyPut simply, capping benefits is penalising the poorest families for the housing crisis in the UK. This March, the UK Supreme Court found that the benefit cap, while not unlawful, is not compatible with the government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child, which the UK ratified in December 1991, when John Major was Prime Minister.

What’s disturbing is that according to a recent YouGov poll, 50% of the people who voted Labour in the 2015 election agree with Iain Duncan Smith about the two-child rule, and 47% agree with him about the benefits cap: nearly half the people who voted Labour think that a child deserves to suffer for their parents’ poverty, especially if the child has more than one brother or sister. They voted Labour, but they believe that children in poverty shouldn’t get what they need: children should suffer.

How did we come to this?

I disagree with Harriet Harman and with Ed Miliband, both of whom ordered Labour MPs to abstain on legislation to impose suffering on children, rather than vote against. I disagree with the Labour Party’s eagerness to comply with what the Tories want to do to families in poverty. But I concede that a Labour Party faced with polls that say half of the people who intend to vote Labour think that children in poverty should suffer misery and ill-health and go without even adequate support for their needs, is a party with problems: politicians are supposed to chase votes, to promise voters what they want, not stand up for political and ethical principles and convince voters that punishing the poor isn’t the right thing to vote for. We don’t have inspirational politicians any more: being inspirational doesn’t get you votes. That’s right, isn’t it?

On 31st May, a Labour supporter wrote in Labour UnCut:

People that vote Conservative aren’t evil. They aren’t immune to the social ills that have fractured our country nor are they unconcerned. They vote Conservative when they don’t trust Labour with their economic future.

That is why it is essential that the next leader offers middle income, aspirant voters the certainty that their jobs, their living standards and the economy will be protected. They want us to show that we understand their ambition. That we understand the importance of creating wealth and helping people to provide a great life and great opportunities for their family.

What I think is essential is that the next leader can explain to middle-income, aspirant voters that we cannot afford – ethically or economically – policies which ensure that children of poor families suffer. Ethically it is wrong and uncivilised to penalise children for their parents’ poverty. Economically it is bloody stupid to bring some children up inadequately provided for: poverty in childhood leads to expensive problems in later life.

And I do not for the life of me see why politicians find this so difficult to explain.

But for five years, we’ve had a Labour party which went along with the Tory lies about people on benefits.

What Tony Blair and other pundits have been telling us is that to be electable, we need the same or more so again: the strategy approved by John McTernan, who helped Jim Murphy lead Scottish Labour from defeat to disaster earlier this year: he called the MPs who nominated Corbyn “moronic”. According to Julia Hartley-Brewer at the Spectator, Jeremy Corbyn isn’t who Labour voters want: according to today’s YouGov poll, Corbyn is even more popular with Labour affiliates and supporters than with Labour party members.

But what about the Labour voters who think the government should make children in poverty suffer?

Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, will all go along with that. They’ll try to minimise the suffering, which is the difference between them and the Tories: the Tories will make children suffer on a point of principle, because it’s worth spending money to make poor families homeless – that’s a big showy gesture of faith in Conservative politics. Labour will go along with what they think the voters want: voters want poor families to suffer, so Labour will make them suffer, just a bit, just enough to get their votes.

And I won’t vote Labour. Because I want to vote for a party that thinks keeping children in poverty is vile and wrong, and is prepared to say so. Even to the people who might have voted Labour if they believed Labour would keep children in poverty.

That’s the kind of thinking that Tony Blair says will keep Labour out of power for 20 years. Because Tony Blair believes that British voters prefer children in poverty to suffer, and you can’t be an electable party unless you promise to do it.

Is he right?

1 Comment

Filed under Children, Poverty

One response to “Children should suffer

  1. There is the point, of course, that with the increasing number of non-working wrinklies like myself the creation of wealth in the economy as a whole requires well-educated and well cared for youngsters to join the productive society. We are, as they say, all in it together. The problem with too many in the supposedly realist wing of the Labour Party is that they confuse values with policy prescriptions: yes, they need to find a language and a story that expresses the party’s values in terms that respond to public concerns – that doesn’t mean simply playing me-too with whatever the press and the Tories say is the problem and the solution.

    Something I keep coming back to, having checked it on a whim during the election campaign, is that the Labour manifesto of 1945 contained not one single quantified promise: it was all about values and principles.

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