Iain Duncan Smith's 2-child policy: Should unemployed parents stop receiving child benefit if they have a third child?


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The Independent Online

In her column for today's Independent, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reflects on an announcement made via the Today programme on Radio 4 by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith last week. Yasmin thinks this is an appalling and crude attack on the most vulnerably people in our society.

Over at the Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips argues that, far from being an attack on the needy, this is a completely justified and indeed necessary moral revaluation of the function of welfare.

What's going on?

Our Political Editor, Andrew Grice, reported on the proposals thus last week:


"Families would receive child benefit and other state handouts only for their first two children under a controversial change proposed yesterday by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.

The "two child" benefits cap sparked comparisons with China's "one child" population control policy and provoked anger from charities and the Liberal Democrats, who threatened to block it. But Conservative MPs backed the plan, saying that the welfare system should not encourage families to have more children.

Mr Duncan Smith said his plan would apply to new claims rather than families already receiving benefits. Although the Government insisted that no decisions have been taken, such a cap could apply to child tax credits and income support as well as child benefit.

The Work and Pensions Secretary, under Treasury pressure to find another £10bn of cuts to the welfare budget, said it would be fairer to the vast majority of taxpayers if benefits were limited to the first two children, so that all families had to "cut their cloth". He told the BBC: "When you look at families across the board, at all incomes, you find the vast majority make decisions about the kind of numbers of children they have, the families they want, based on what they can afford."


Perverse incentives!

Public support for a cut in the welfare budget seems consistently strong. Welfare constitutes a vast chunk of government spending, which all parties agree needs to come down. So there is a strong fiscal case for trying to reduce it. Secondly and more importantly in the eyes of much of the public, unjust welfare repayments should be stopped. Why should all taxpayers fund the lifestyle choice of the few? Finally, though derided as comparably to China's one-child policy, isn't it true that the welfare system gives the poor an incentive to have more children?

Help the needy!

What utter tripe, Yasmin - and many of you - would argue. We must have lost all our sense of compassion and humanity to punish the poor like this. The welfare state is there to help those in need - not punish them. Iain Duncan Smith's proposals would merely hurt the most vulnerable people in our society - many of whom are already suffering as a result of this government's austerity politics.

Which side are you on?