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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager - Events, Digital, Offline

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: B2B Marketing Manager (Events, Digit...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable