Oh dearie me, hasn’t Jeremy Hunt stuck his foot in his mouth with his assertion that the state shouldn’t support large families? Vilification is coming from all quarters, with the best comments (I think) expressed in this Independent article.
With the caveat that I am not very good at politics and am writing this from a very personal point of view, I’m going to stick my neck out a bit here and give the poor man some support.
My take on what he was saying – in connection with the proposed benefit cap on families living entirely on state handouts – was that, if you choose to have a large family, then you should be fully prepared to support that family.
And I agree. I see it as a question of attitude, not an issue of fact. It’s not about unfairly penalising those whose circumstances change through no fault of their own, but about expecting those who choose to have children to accept their responsibility for those children.
Now here’s the brutal honesty part: I always wanted four children and I admit that I didn’t give much thought as to exactly how we would support them as they came along and then – horror of horrors – began to grow up! We were both working, back then, and I was the larger wage earner, as has always been the case when I’ve been working full time (until now, of course, as I can only work from home). But, whilst I failed to recognise that our circumstances might dramatically change – as indeed they have – I did not anticipate or expect the state to play a role in providing for my children.
That is not to say that I have not claimed benefits to which I am entitled, although I choose not to claim incapacity benefit at this time and to try and build a business instead. Like most low-income families, we receive tax credits and child benefit.
When the new child benefit restrictions come into play, a ridiculous possibility will emerge: That a two-income family with each partner being remunerated at less than the higher rate tax threshold (ie: up to about £84000 a year joint income) will still get child benefit whilst a single income family earning anything over £45k a year will not. Whilst this, to me, sounds like more bullying of women into work that they may not wish to do, it is otherwise meaningless because we don’t earn £45k jointly, let alone individually. I think the removal of universal child benefit without proper means testing is wrong – and this particular plan vaguely ludicrous – but the new plans will not affect me.
Nevertheless, should the time come when we are denied – because of new rules, increased income, or both – tax credits or child benefit, we will do what we have always done – we’ll hang on in there and we’ll just get on with it.
I think that the crucial difference to which Mr Hunt could have better alluded is that between those parents who assume that the state will effectively support their kids, no matter how many they choose to have, and those parents who accept (and gratefully, let me be clear) the help that is offered by the government in raising the next generation, but who have not made their life choices based upon an expectation that such help will (a) be forthcoming and (b) be as limitless as the human race’s ability to procreate.
There is also a difference between those who don’t work and those who can’t work – as someone with a large family whose ability to work is now severely limited, I’d hardly be one to criticise others’ in a similar position.
As the Independent reports, Sally Copley, from Save the Children, points out that: “in fact, most children living in poverty have at least one parent in work – but they are still poor because that work is low-paid.” If the £26,000 a year figure that is quoted as the median income in this country is correct, then we fell significantly below it last tax year and will consider ourselves fortunate if we have earned it by the end of this one. Tax credits errors haven’t helped, and we hope that these will be rectified, but there is no assumption in this house that the state will bail us out.
It is nonsensical that (where disability is not a factor) not working provides a better lifestyle than working. And I appreciate the pitfalls of trying to legislate for claimants ranging from the wilfully workshy to the devastated dispossessed. I also agree with the various comments about how children should not be punished for the failings of their parents or on the basis of how many siblings they might have.
But the general idea – that, at some point, state support has to be capped, and that having more children should not be a method of getting more money – is not an unsound principle. Perhaps the answer is to look at exactly how benefit claimants have lost their income and to offer graded support instead of a one-size-fits-all calculation method. But, of course, novel schemes require extra funds to initiate and anything that requires investigation to be undertaken will need investigators who have to be paid.
There are no easy answers, are there? I certainly don’t pretend to have any and I suspect that, whatever the government does next, it will not be welcomed. But do something they must. I worry that, when all the deals are done, the necessary measures will probably unfairly prejudice both the ill and disabled, and those with children. As someone in both categories, I will have to face whatever comes and deal with it accordingly.
In the meantime, I’m just going to keep calm and carry on loving my large family, persisting with whatever I can do to provide for them, and being grateful for the state support that I currently have in so doing.
Although, in respect of tax credits in particular, I do wish the policy makers would put a little more thought into their designs…
Posted in Family, Life | 1 Comment
Posted on October 7, 2010 by Catherine
Mel B (you remember her, she was the one they called ‘Scary Spice’) has said in an interview that she is ‘not proud’ that her two daughters have different fathers.
How quaint. How ridiculous.
I fell pregnant for the first time aged just twenty-two. I knew two things even before the (rather less sensitive in those days) pregnancy test turned positive.
1) That I was definitely pregnant. God, the nausea!
2) That my baby’s father would run as fast as he could, as far as he could, rather than help support me.
To be fair, he was even younger than I, and I know that it was neither contempt nor carelessness that drove him away, but sheer panic. And I think that I suspected, even then, that he was making the right choice.
Because it was the right choice.
I went through pregnancy alone and endured childbirth with the help of some very nice drugs and my Mum. I raised my daughter alone for a year, working full time to support us from the time that she was three months old. Leaving her for the first time at nursery – after having force-weaned her from breastfeeding because I lacked the support to know that I didn’t have to – was the most heart-wrenching, miserable, horrible thing that I have ever felt compelled to do. It did not, however, seem to cause her any undue distress or harm; she is now a clever and capable, secure and sensible, typically stroppy seventeen year old, studying for her A Levels.
During the course of that first year, I experienced some of the greatest peace of my life. She was my focus, my reason, my purpose. We lived a quiet, organised life with a strict routine. I was very, very happy.
And then, as is so often the case when one is content just to be alone; when one is self-assured and steady – I met someone. For one night only I broke away from my habitual early nights and went out with some work colleagues. And was chatted up in a nightclub by the man who is now – and has been for fifteen years, almost – my husband.
We married when my daughter was two. She was my flower girl, although her basket of flowers got on her nerves and she made my Dad carry them for most of the day. I was pregnant with our second daughter – and you will perhaps notice that I say ‘our second’ – at the time. God, the nausea!
As the registrar began the marriage ceremony, my daughter dumped her flowers on her Granddad and marched to the front of the room, whereupon she flung herself into my husband’s arms – not mine – insisting on being part of the proceedings. The registrar got all choked up. It was as if she was saying to all the assembled friends and family: “This is about me, too, I’ll have you know!”
And she was right. Her surname was changed by deed poll immediately after our marriage, so that we all, new baby included, would have the same surname. Because we were a family.
It took a little time for the law to catch up with our emotions. Back then (I believe the process has changed now) we had to be married for a year before we could undertake a step-parent adoption. We adopted her as a couple, so that I relinquished my legal rights as her mother only to be immediately reinstated as such by the adoption order. A strange way of doing things, but we did not care. By the time we had completed the social services assessments and waited (in vain) for any contact with her natural father, I was pregnant with our third daughter. God, the nausea!
The magistrates who granted the adoption order told us that we were a lovely family and gave my daughter a small bouquet of flowers and a card. It was a very emotional and intimate hearing. My daughter chattered and giggled all the way through it and I think even our social worker had to swallow hard at one point.
We preferred to publicly document what was in our hearts, but the truth is very simple, whether given the force of law or not. My husband is my daughter’s father; her Daddy. They fight all the time, just as my Dad and I did (and still do). She tests his boundaries; he panics about her safety. She shrieks, he yells. And then, when everything else is against her, such as when she failed to do as well as she wanted and needed to do in her exams last year, he is there for her. She and I were both away from home at the time and he spent hours on the phone as she cried, talking her through her options, consoling her, and insisting to her that we did not care what she chose to do with her life, just as long as she was happy.
What does biology have to do with any of that? I swear he fell in love with her before he fell in love with me; I have such fond memories of his insistence on pushing her pram and of his heartbroken expression when, at first, she would turn away from him, not wanting to accept this rival for her mother’s attention. I particularly remember waking up one morning alone and panicking because my daughter should have woken me and where was my boyfriend?
He had heard her stir and was quietly playing trains with her on her bedroom floor, leaving me to have a rare Sunday morning lie-in.
Families are not formed when sperm and egg collide. Families are about love, understanding, laughter… The two of them are so alike, right down to their fiery tempers. You’d never guess that they are not genetically related.
So I am proud that one of my children has a different biological co-parent than the other three. I am in awe of what I witness every day about the power of love and the reality of fatherhood. We’re far from being a perfect family but, if I ask my daughter (and I regularly do; she has a right to know) if she would like me to tell her anything about the man who helped me to conceive her, she tells me no.
She says: “I know who my Dad is. I know all I need to know.”
She does. She knows she is loved – by both her parents.