Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The government's "cuts" - OP-ED

I don't typically rant about politics on my blog, but this really annoyed me so I feel like I just have to vent. Proceed with caution.

So the major political parties have had their annual conferences over the last few weeks, and the Tories are the last to go. They are up in Birmingham, reveling in their coalition government and giving the UK a stern lecture on how the economy is still fragile and there is a need to cut benefits. On Monday, they announced their first and probably most controversial move: to cut child benefits.

In the UK, families (of any sort) receive a stipend intended to help cover additional costs incurred by, well, having a kid. I am unsure about the exact amount, but it seems to be about £1,000 per year that isn't taxed. What the Tories have decided is that those families with parents who are high earners will now lose out on the benefit. Which I am, in principle, okay with. However, I'm really upset about the arbitrariness of the income thresholds that will be affected.

Basically, the income threshold is £44,000 per annum. But because tax is in the UK is calculated on an individual basis not households (no joint filing for married couples), the threshold applies to any family where ONE parent earns £44k or more even if their total household income is only based on one person's income. So ostensibily you could have a couple with one child who both work, earning £40k each for a total of £80k, still receiving the child benefit, but then have a couple who have three children, one working earning £50k and the other staying home to care for the kids, and not receiving the child benefit.

Besides being inherently unfair, the bit of this that bothers me the most is that, again, it's single moms who lose out the most. Women typically earn less than men anyway and by evaluating eligibility by individual rather than household, you actually discourage them from seeking raises, promotions, or career advancement. Single mothers have to pay for childcare, unlike couples with a stay-at-home-parent, increasing the cost of care and limiting options.

David Cameron has apologised for the unfairness of this new system as he recognises that people see the incongruent logic behind it; apparently the threshold and the policy are based on the current tax system that does not recognize income on a household basis and it would cost more to change the tax system than to just institute this cut. The Tories are also trying to help by saying they'll give a tax credit to married couples, which is absolutely ridiculous because, again, single moms and those who don't want to be married lose out.

Everyone knows the economy isn't quite stable, and that economic austerity is the way forward, and I'm okay with that. But I really believe, as a taxpayer in 2 countries, that the cuts and policies put forward as solutions to our troubled economy MUST be fair to all. You can't take something away from those who need it most just to keep the solution neat and tidy. I really hope that the coalition government rethinks how it cuts the child benefit and just who is going to make the most sacrifices for our collective economic health.

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