Just stop trying to end child poverty

Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Much cooing across the nation, I've no doubt, at the photos of a devoted David Cameron and baby Florence – though you might want to ask why we didn't get to see Samantha, too. Maybe No 10 did not want to present too conventionally perfect a picture of family bliss, lest it be deemed to imply criticism of others, single parents, for instance, at a time when families of all kinds fear the effect of "the cuts".

Not that the Camerons will need to worry about tax credits (to be withdrawn from mid- and higher earners), or child allowance (which stays for everyone), or the Child Trust Fund (they surely have their own). Whatever turn her father's political fortunes may take, Florence Rose Endellion will grow up a very privileged little girl. It's those at the other end of the scale the taxpayers need to worry about.

I wonder, though, whether we need to worry about these children quite as much as their advocates would like us to, at least in the narrowly financial way they present it. "Child poverty" is the leitmotif of every "cuts" story. And it was again last week, when the trusted Institute for Fiscal Studies published a study for the End Child Poverty campaign, saying pretty much what it wanted to hear: that George Osborne's emergency Budget, if you projected the effects far enough ahead, was harder on those at the bottom than at the top, and hardest of all on those with children.

In fact, any rebalancing – the new catchphrase – is almost bound to subtract just a little from children, because the childless among us were among those most conspicuously omitted from the previous government's largesse. As Chancellor and then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown held to the admirable principle that, so far as possible, no child should be at a disadvantage because of parental poverty. Having a child now attracts all sorts of benefits, quite far up the income scale. In fact, for someone without a partner and/or work, a child can be quite a valuable addition, if you look at what else comes too: housing points, higher housing benefit and, for mothers, no obligation to work.

You can say that this is as it should be, and that some of the scams it encourages – the fathers who see babies as cash-cows; those who bring an unrelated child into the country as a passport to extra benefits – are few and far between. On the other side, though, I think, something has been lost: there is now no disincentive to bringing a child into the world in unpropitious circumstances.

There used to be a moral stigma: that has gone. But the economic deterrent has largely vanished, too. So long as young women or workless households are no worse off having children, and in many cases better off, hopes of reducing child poverty – except through expensive state intervention – are vain. I'm not saying that poor parents should not have children. I am saying that, unless there is a cost attached to having a child – for everyone, rich or poor, in work or out – the unintended consequence of trying to end child poverty will be more babies, not fewer, born poor.





Joanna Lumley v The Ministry of Defence – round two



It's not just children facing the unintended consequences of an action that was designed to help. The Gurkhas, who won the right to retire to the UK after a tear-jerking social justice campaign waged by Joanna Lumley, are now threatened with being disbanded after almost 200 years of fierce and loyal service to the Crown.

In a defence review required to think the unthinkable, this option is entirely thinkable. After all, what is a post-imperial nation doing recruiting soldiers from another sovereign state? Should not young Nepalese be fighting for Nepal? But that, alas, is not the reason why the Gurkha regiment may be doomed. By qualifying for UK retirement, for themselves and their (often large) families, the Gurkhas have crossed from the credit to the debit column. In seeking to do the right thing by her father's saviours, Ms Lumley may well have closed off a source of security for Nepalese families. Will she, I wonder, be fronting a new campaign, to save the Gurkhas?





Yes, foreign languages are hard, and they don't pay



This year's exam results demonstrate once again that, as a Briton competent in several foreign languages, I belong to an endangered species. As such, I might be expected to take issue with those who question the usefulness for native English speakers of learning a foreign language – including recent letter-writers to this newspaper. But to all those linguists who wrote protesting that they had drawn no benefit from their hard-won skills, I can only say: I agree.

I'm one of relatively few of my contemporaries to have used my languages professionally. Has my languages degree paid off? Personally, of course, it's a cultural and social plus. Professionally? It can work almost as a trap. You become the tame – unpaid – office and social translator. Monolingual reporters posted abroad (oh yes they are) receive an allowance for interpreting. I've never been paid more for not needing one – and, yes, I did have the nerve to ask. Many employers treat languages as a free luxury, not a necessity to be rewarded at a professional rate.

The only way to change this is to make competence in a foreign language a requirement for university entrance, and enforce it. That would send the message that familiarity with another language is integral to a decent education. Until that happens, the monoglot majority will continue to laugh off their linguistic incompetence in the same way people joke about being bad at maths – and then turn to you, with a sense of entitlement, when they're hungry and can't understand the menu.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links