Just stop trying to end child poverty


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Not that the Camerons will need to worry about tax credits (to be withdrawn from mid- and higher earners), or child allowance (which stays for everyone), or the Child Trust Fund (they surely have their own).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

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

F D R and Eleanor, both facing camera, in Warm Springs, Georgia in 1938  

Where are today's Roosevelts?

Rupert Cornwell
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam