Coffee House

Field gets to work

11 June 2010

The Times leads with the story that Frank Field, the government’s independent poverty advisor, is recommending that child benefit
be stopped at age 13, arguing that: ‘at that age mothers feel even more engaged with work than they are with children.’

Currently, the benefit is paid until children are 19 – £20 is paid for the first child and £13.40 for each subsequent child. The benefit costs the taxpayer £11bn per year;
Field’s proposal would save £3bn a year and there would be considerably larger savings if the cut was extended to child tax credits.

Field and IDS will propose radical reform of incapacity and out of work benefits that will incur significant upfront costs – around £3bn by some estimates – so savings have to be
made elsewhere on the welfare bill. In addition to the savings Field envisages, he wants to tax universal child benefit along the lines of income tax bands, to ensure that the poorest receive
the bulk of the benefit. He argues that a tax option would be cheaper than means testing; it is also politically sound: the benefit would remain universal, which would disarm Labour’s likely
line of attack that the government wants to create a two-tier welfare system that would maroon the poor. Field would also introduce a ‘life chances index’, which would measure family
income, parenting and school readiness (holding a crayon etc), as the means to assess child poverty and to allocate funds appropriately.

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Show comments
  • chris

    what planet is this “Frank Field” living on,
    “The MP for Birkenhead said: “At that age mothers feel even more engaged with work than they are with children.”

    So what are they grown up adults now at this age, i didn’t vote for labour but even i can see and agree with labour on this one, thats the way forward, child benefit shoud be paid and if children continue school to 19 just as it is, low income and poor people should always have this help and it is crzy to sujest to go backwards on this, but why are rich and millioares being handed child benefit when they clearly dont need it, means test it and use that money to up the help/benefits for low income and for the poor.

    and where the hell is Cleggy disapeard, has he not a single word to say about these ridiculas ideas!!

  • Olaf Rye

    It is curious that some people think that public largesse is something sacrosanct and that people are entitled to any benefit. We merely countenance this as a broader society, but when times are tough, these things are not safe. No comparisons with trust funds and inheritance tax can justifiably be made: that money will be moved out of the nation quickly if there are indications that these will be subject to taxation. Moreover, remember that this money has already been taxed. Benefits, on the other hand, are generally claimed by those that have paid less than they have received from taxpayers. After thirteen years of being fattened up by Labour, the shock to the system will be profound, but I am sure that many of the recipients will just steal a bit more to supplement their income.

  • David Bouvier

    Peter of Maidstone – yes Child Tax Credits are structured as a tax credit (unlike Child Benefit) but this is a disaster.

    All the problems of over and under payments – and the need for irritating radio ads – arises from the problems of implementing weekly/monthly benefits through the tax system.

    The only reason Gordon Brown drove through this stupid and hurtful change was to offset the “benefits” paid to people who pay income tax against tax, so reducing apparent government spending and reducing the apparent tax burden. But the mismatch between benefits-type rules and tax-type systems is a nightmare.

  • Paul Hawkins

    I was an only child so my comments stand.

  • bobthefish

    Expat view – Here in the US, there is no such thing as direct child benefit payment. We do get a tax credit for each child. But that gets tapered out above a certain income threshold. Do it by the PAYE tax code. Restrict to lower tax bracket/whatever. While you’re down there, reduce the army of Civil Servants who have to administer child benefit and the tax credits. Trebles all round.

  • DZ

    writing from rural West Africa, where parents with no money at all (just a backbreaking little farm) have a number of children who are strong healthy and active, usually working on the farm, can someone who hasn’t got a sociology degree explain the true meaning of ‘child poverty’ in a European culture?

  • Tiberius



  • GeoffH

    “Child benefit is NOT a benefit if you are a working parent, it is just some of the taxes that were taken off you given back”

    You are confusing Child Benefit with Child Tax Credit.

  • lescam

    the mention of family allowances, brings back memories of when my children were young. The oldest, born in 1964, received no allowance. The second, born in 1966, received 8/6d per week (approx 42p). Such riches! In spite of this we managed perfectly well.

  • Tiberius

    I think the original idea of child benefit was to give the mother the chance to draw cash at the Post Office, so that she could use it to feed the kids before dad spent it in the pub (as he would most of his wages). That idea is probably out of date, especially with most families receiving the benefit directly into their bank account.

    It would be missed by current claimants if stopped. My suggestion would be to match the principal employed elsewhere, that only new claimants suffer the new rules. Sadly, that principal seems to be one of those that is only ever enjoyed by other people.

  • Bessie

    @Nicholas: “Can I claim retrospectively for the child benefit that was not paid for me during my childhood? Of course not.”

    I don’t know how old you are, Nicholas, but since Child Benefit has been around since 1977, and it replaced Family Allowance, which started in 1945, there’s a pretty good chance your parents did receive it.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Child benefit is NOT a benefit if you are a working parent, it is just some of the taxes that were taken off you given back. If the Government taxed me less I’d be happy not to get child benefit for my children, but the fact is that I pay more and more taxes and it mostly seems to go on those who pay no taxes. If the workers are expected to continue to subsidise those who will not work then the social contract will break down sooner rather than later.

  • YorkshireLad

    Forgive my ignorance but are these benefits taxable or count toward taxable income? If not, why not?
    Why not make it £15 per child to the age of 11? And put a 3 child limit on the whole scheme?

  • Nicholas

    Can I claim retrospectively for the child benefit that was not paid for me during my childhood? Of course not.

    Isn’t having children a matter of personal choice and responsibility? Subsidising parents to produce children and giving them a pecuniary incentive to have more is not very wise. But of course the system requires women to work in order to keep the housing and holiday market inflated.

    Yesterday I visited the incompetent chaos that is the local clinic pharmacy (small, rural village). I was told that TWO pharmacists had left and THREE “people” were on maternity leave. Clearly the somnolent working routine of the FOUR gossiping (holidays taken or planned mainly) women left to continue the service could not cope with these absences. Not a single male working in that clinic except the doctors and not one of them over 50. Our taxes pay for this over-staffed nonsense, this maternity leave, the chaos resulting from the absence is also then inflicted on us and our taxes then pay the subsequent child benefits. For a single man or woman without children this is simply taking the piss.

    And insult is added to injury in the over-usage of that horrible phrase “hard-working families”. I find it absolutely barmy that perfectly well-off families should gain additional taxpayer funded benefits for the children they choose to bring into the world.

  • David Blackburn


    Apologies – it was a typo. Now corrected to child benefit.

  • nonny mouse

    This is why Labour lost power.

    Even when they had talent on their own benches they ignored it for 13 years because he didnt fit into their tribes.

  • THX1138

    So If we stop child benefit at 13 and means test it, those of us that actually pay for the country, are being asked by the new Tory Gov to pay more and receive less.. And how is that fair?

    Can I suggest that we put a 97% tax on inherited trust funds, (lets see how Dave & George the archetypal W11 trustafarians like that) and that would help end the something for nothing society the Tories are always banging on about.

  • GeoffH

    Paul “@2trueblue – how did parents manage before this array of benefits was paid to them?”

    They received Family Allowance (for the second child onwards) and earned their money under a tax system with allowances that allowed them to keep more of their income in the first place.

    But a tax system that worked that way was not to the liking of the left since it kept people beyond the state of dependency that tax credits creates.

    The most pernicious aspect of Tax credits, in my view, is that they amount to a subsidy to employers of lower-paid labour. They distort the market rate for work since they allow employers to keep pay at minimum levels and trumpet Tax Credits as providing the top-up necessary to deliver the income their workers need.

    Your parents ‘benefited’ from lower housing costs vis a vis today’s mortgaged homeowners.

  • Martin Keegan

    13 would “bring Britain into line” (don’t the collectivists love that phrase) with, er, the Republic of Ireland

  • Paul Hawkins

    @2trueblue – how did parents manage before this array of benefits was paid to them? Mine raised me in a council house and made many sacrifices so I could go to grammar school and university.
    They received bugger all help. Attitude,not money got them through and set me a good example.Sadly,years of rotting in the welfare state have reversed this. However,the notion that without money nothing can happen is plainly wrong. The coming years will reinforce that message. The party is over. Hangover time.

  • 2trueblue

    13yrs of age is precicely the age that mothers should be around their children, as young teenagers are at their most vulnerable. Any mother knows that ths is a crucial time to pass on life skills and you can not do that if you are not there.

    People should be allowed to make that decision and if bringing up children is valued why abondon the idea at the most immpressionable age? 16yrs seems to be a more logical marker.

    I hope that fiddling with our tax system will not create the holes akin to Liebores. Field himself took days to discover the trick that Gordo did with 10% tax was just that, a trick, and very tricky.

    Our tax system needs simplifing not complicating. Understanding the present system is beyond most people, (even those administering it and advisors at the CAB) so whatever you do Field, don’t introduce another layer of complications.

    If you take away child benefit from those perceived to be better off, it will in fact not work. Educational standards will drop as parents will smmply not ba able to afford to support their teenagers at school. Yes, school, not university. There is no substitute for such support.

  • HJ


    Could you clarify what you mean by “child tax benefit”?

    Do you mean just “child benefit” or is there some other tax-related (or tax credit) benefit that is paid to working parents?

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