Five ways the state could discourage people on benefits from having large numbers of children

Charlie Cooper looks at the pros and cons of changing how welfare is paid to those with most children

Whether or not one accepts a link between the Philpott case and the argument for welfare reform, the tragedy has focused attention on one of the most difficult questions in modern politics: how the state should discourage people on benefits from having large numbers of children and expect the welfare system to pick up the bill.

Many different strategies have been proposed or attempted to control family size in this country and overseas.

Although the most extreme solutions are thankfully confined to a lunatic fringe, ideas once considered drastic are now being embraced by the Government – and some are already on their way in the UK. Here are five approaches – from keeping the laissez-faire to the radical.

Maintain the status quo:

The problem of large families is a  relatively small one. Of 1.35 million families in the UK that claim out-of-work benefit, there are only 190 with more than 10 children.

The idea of a nation of people “breeding” children for the welfare payment they represent is a gross exaggeration, whichever way you look at it. Children’s charities argue that, whatever the rights and wrongs, it is children who suffer when benefit payments are cut.

Pros: With 3.6 million children in the UK already in poverty  (in a household earning less than 60 per cent of the average wage) would prevent cuts to benefits driving more children beneath the breadline.

Cons: does not address concerns that many are using children to exploit the welfare state.

Docking benefits when children miss school:

One proposed policy, already in place in some US states, is for the parents of children who miss school to be docked benefits. In Michigan, parents whose children play truant for ten days see their social security cut.

In the UK, a senior government advisor suggested that the UK employ a similar strategy, extracting truancy fines from family’s state benefit.

Pros: encourages parents to be responsible for children’s education, without automatically removed their child benefit.

Cons: does not address issues of welfare dependency.

Capping benefits:

A policy that is about to come into force in four London boroughs and will soon be rolled out nationwide, is that total benefits payments will be capped at £500 a week, or £26,000 per year for families of all sizes. The aim of the policy is to “make work pay” by bringing maximum benefit payments below the average full time salary.

However, the impact is expected to be predominately felt by large families, who make up the largest number of people currently receiving benefits above the cap. 73 per cent of households affected have three or more children.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said in its Green Budget 2013 that the policy may have an impact on fertility rates “since the cap will effectively reduce the state financial support for some large families”.

Pros: tackles the problem of families having children for the sake of the benefit they bring while also encouraging people into work.

Cons: will cut the income of families by an average £93 per week – plunging many into poverty.

Cutting the number of children eligible for benefits:

An idea that would once have been considered extreme now has the backing of senior Conservatives and is being considered by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary. David Davis, a former Tory leadership challenger, has said in the wake of the Philpott case, that there is “a strong argument to restrict child benefit whether it is to two, three or four children”, although he added that policy should not be made “on the back of one story”.

His words echo Mr Duncan Smith last year, when he suggested that he would consider capping benefit payments for new claimants after the birth of the first two children – a scheme that was dubbed the “two-child policy” and earned comparisons to China’s population control methods. Charities said any such move would have “a devastating impact on children”.

Pros: directly targets the problem of families having children for the sake of the benefit award they bring.

Cons: will unfairly penalise the children of families that exceed the cap.

One-child policy:

Although aimed at stemming the population rather than reducing the welfare bill, China’s one-child policy is a real-world example of how state-control over family planning can be implemented. However, recent figures revealed that the policy had been responsible for 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilisations.

Pros: a legal limit on the number of children could cut the welfare bill.

Cons: is almost as bad an abuse of human rights as sterilisation. Will force thousands to have compulsory abortions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003