Lay off Katie Price – she’s entitled to state help for her disabled son

This is a handy reminder that some of our taxes do go to worthy causes

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The Independent Online

Yet again, the ferocious goldfish bowl that is Celebrity Big Brother has expertly jabbed its televisual finger at the issues that galvanise the nation. In this case, the moot point brought up by public icons/utter nobodies (take your pick) is about whether private wealth excludes you from claiming public services, and whether universal care should mean just that. Deliciously, this latest spat involves a) two women who share the same first name and b) two women who share a “Marmite” accolade. I’m referring of course to Katie Price – “glamour” model, author, accomplished horsewoman and mother of five – and Katie Hopkins, self-appointed scourge of the left, ex-Apprentice contestant and mother of three.

The Katies started out in the Big Brother house as besties, but the atmosphere has since descended into something a bit more bestial. Essentially, Hopkins has condemned Price after discovering that Price’s disabled son Harvey, who is autistic and blind, is conveyed every day from the Price mansion in West Sussex to a special school in Wimbledon, south London, in a taxi paid for by the state. The round trip is about 100 miles, and, in a normal minicab would cost around £650 a week. There is also a special-needs nurse in the cab. Price’s personal fortune is worth something in the region of £40m.

The fact that Harvey is being looked after by the state on a daily basis at some considerable cost to the taxpayer really got Hopkins’ goat. Later, she explained her position. “I’ve always held dear that if you can afford to pay for something, you should, and you shouldn’t rely on the Government.”

Really? On a week when the dreaded January tax bill has landed in the  in-boxes of the nation, it might be a rather handy reminder that actually, some of our taxes do go to pay for worthy causes, and taking a disabled special-needs child to school and back every day might well be considered one of them. Furthermore, as Price herself indignantly pointed out, she is a British citizen, a taxpayer and works in an industry notorious for an imperious carelessness about parental timekeeping and school hours. That little Harvey is taken to school and back in a cab with a nurse on hand every day might actually be highly reassuring to a woman whose career is not exactly what one might call stable.

Yet does wealth matter? Should Price be means-tested, as all parents claiming child benefit have been, and should the size of her personal fortune mean that she has effectively bankrolled herself out of the public health and education system? Or, as a taxpayer, is she entitled to what she can get?

We have, of course, been down Entitlements Avenue before, quite recently. We all know about patients who demand paracetamol on prescription from their GPs, even though a packet of them costs 20p from Aldi. Or those who claim sun-tan and even nit lotion on prescription, because this is their right.

Is it different with Harvey? Yes, I think it is. I think in most cases, people can probably stretch to buying a packet of painkillers from the local newsagent or supermarket for a tiny fee. Taking a  12-year-old vulnerable child to school and back every day is quite a different matter. If Price’s fortune means that she might be disallowed from claiming assistance with bringing up a disabled child, does this mean that everyone whose personal income is more than, say, £150,000 per annum should be barred from entry to the local library, treatment from the National Health Service or state education for their children?

In the Hopkins world, if you can pay for it, you have a moral obligation to do so. Yet surely one of the great standpoints of our society, at least since the end of the last war, is that there are some benefits which are universal. Education. Health. Literacy. Policing. Ambulances.

If Hopkins were knocked down by the 91 bus, and there might be a lot of people who rather hope she might be, would she reach over from her stretcher en route to University College Hospital and say “No! No! I can afford to pay for this emergency care, so I will pay for it.” Of course not.

According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the gulf between wealth and poverty has never been so great in this country. If we, as a nation, feel that the well off should be precluded from the assistance of the state, then we cannot complain when they pull away and form their own little non-dom island. We can’t have it both ways. I am rather glad that Price is relying on the state to deliver her child to and from school every day. As she herself has pointed out, there is no wealth in the world which can assuage the difficulties of bringing up a disabled child.

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