From the archive: The rich “have children”, while the poor “breed”
I read the below article and thought: “Thank goodness my kids are grown up” and then I thought how selfish my comment was. I thought about how incensed I’d be if someone said to me: “Thank goodness I’m not disabled.”
I’m not saying I’m a selfish person, but, sometimes we can be so wrapped up in our own lives we fail to see the misery of others and the greatest anguish in my life would have been to see my kids without food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs. I remember the pestering I got off my kids for designer trainers (because they be teased if they didn’t have them and their school didn’t discourage the wearing of them) and trips abroad with their school etc.
Now, we have gone back to the “Victorian era” and things are so bad for kids that schools are having to pick up the slack from a ever-reducing welfare state. Rickets are back, malnutrition and a host of other poverty related ailments, one can only muse about how much it’s going to cost the NHS, but then it will be gone by then – won’t it? Leaked Tory plans to cap child benefit have the whiff of eugenics about them
The message is clear: that the right to have more than two children should be denied to the poor.
The challenging thing about children is, once they enter the world, they tend to stick around. Unlike a magazine subscription, if money’s tight, there isn’t an option to have them cancelled. Children are living, breathing, small people, and still require sustenance, care and nourishment, even when household economics make that difficult to fulfil.
It’s this fact that renders the reported Conservative plans to cap child benefit at two children downright cruel. The Tories say the leaked plans are nonsense, but Osborne refuses to state where the £12bn in mooted welfare cuts will fall, and the Tories have already announced plans to cut the benefit cap to £23,000.
Maria (not her real name) and her five children are one of the 27,000 households currently hit by the cap. Talking to her in late 2014, a year after the policy was rolled out, she spoke slowly, often stopping mid-sentence, apologising and explaining that she had been on anti-depressants since the change took effect, but her dose had been upped repeatedly as she felt suicidal. Most of the family’s benefits went on their housing in Westminster and since the cap came in, the only costs they were able to cut were food and heating. Last winter was mercifully mild, but Maria dreaded a cold snap, and she regularly skipped meals to ensure her children were fed. One of her twin sons, milling around fascinated by my Dictaphone, when asked what upset him about being poor, replied forlornly: “Not having friends over for tea.”
With barely enough food to feed his siblings, the socialising other children took for granted was out of the question. Children are perceptive and notice the effects of poverty, absorbing the stigma. He’d clocked that the number of birthday party invitations he received had dwindled, and internalised the attendant shame of poverty before his 10th birthday.
That shame is difficult to shrug off. The attacks on the poorest imbue anyone who grew up poor under John Major’s Government with a yawning sense of deja vu. The memories I have of the 1990s, as part of a large family that had seven children under the roof at any one time, are not of seaside holidays or lavish Christmas celebrations, but panicked talks about missed giros, discussion of what hoops and hurdles the Jobcentre was introducing to receive subsistence benefits, and persistent cold and hunger.
Children notice from a young age when they receive free school meals and their uniforms are scruffier than their peers’. They experience a familiar sense of dread when letters for school trips are handed out with small fees that, even though they are just a few pounds, are outside of the household budget. Growing up poor convinces you your life is worth less, from a very young age.
When government policy says the same, how can anyone believe otherwise? Applying caps to child benefit and welfare doesn’t alter the fact of poor children’s existence: it merely entrenches poverty even further, and bolsters the scapegoating that has continued for decades now.
The welfare cap, as it stands, saves a negligible amount – the Institute for Fiscal Studies worked out that the cap saved only one thousandth of the benefit bill. The message is clear: slashing welfare and child benefit for families with more than two kids says the right to have children should be denied to the poor. While poverty is entrenched and impossible to escape with stagnating wages, the erosion of workers’ rights and extortionate housing costs, this has an inescapable eugenic angle to it. Read any right-leaning newspaper, or listen to a radio call-in show on larger families, and you’ll invariably be reminded that in the national consciousness, the rich “have children”, while the poor “breed”.
The welfare state used to be considered a safety net – a way of proclaiming that as a society we value the health and wellbeing of every citizen and felt no one should starve in modern Britain. Now it’s yet another stick to beat the most marginalised.
Courtesy of victedy
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