A big problem with a “two-child” policy

It will have escaped no one’s notice that the current Conservative government is one that is dedicated to cutting the budget and in particular decreasing the dependence that people have on welfare. The newest suggestion put forward has been a form of ‘two-child policy’. Some clarification is of course needed here because such a title rings too much of the oppressive regime of China and its ‘one-child’ policy. The government is in no way suggesting that a person’s right to have children should be questioned. It is a policy of capping how many children entitle one to receive child benefits, and, as has been suggested, child tax credits. This however does not make it any less appealing than a policy on how many children one can have, because, it will affect the capacity for choice for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Before this claim is demonstrated we need to look at something which is unique and brilliant about child benefits; they are paid directly to the ‘primary caregiver’ who still, even in our balanced and fair society, is more often the mother. Other benefits are often paid to the home owner, or tax payer, or the person who fills out the form, but child benefits go (for sake of argument) to the mother of the children. One of the benefits of this is that women who are living in what might be called a ‘traditional family unit’ have some form of independent income that they bear the responsibility of managing. Without such a system women who have chosen, for whatever reason, to be a home-maker still retain a certain level of independent financial control and are able to develop an ability to deal with financial issues which would otherwise be the sole responsibility of the male of the household. Of course this only holds true for a narrow band of strict traditionalist households, but it begins to demonstrate a very important point; child benefits offer a level of independent self control to women who would otherwise lack this, given their existence in a purely andocentric household.

The greater issue, however, is that some women are not merely existing in an andocentric home environment but are forced to exist in it through domestic abuse; both psychological and physical. These poor women are some of the most vulnerable people in our modern society. They are trapped in a cycle of abuse that is very difficult to escape for many reasons; from fear of retribution to a denial of the problem. What has recently been shown to be a factor, however, is that women who are abused are wholly dependent on their abuser. The male provides everything: house, car, money for food, heating and electricity etc. This adds another element to why abuse victims find it difficult to leave the relationship: they don’t know how to survive on their own and not only that, but, if they were to leave they lack an independent income that would be able to provide for them and their children. Let’s take a hypothetical example here: a woman with 5 children flees an abusive home to start a new life. With psychological trauma, and little experience in providing for herself she relies, initially, on the good will of the state. However, raising five children is expensive and with only two of them making her eligible for benefits she struggles for money. Her options are to live in virtual poverty, or surrender her children to the care system until she finds her feet. Leaving an abusive home is an incredibly difficult thing to do and anyone who manages it deserves all the help and support in the world. Child benefits don’t make it wholly possible but they make it easier. Take away the assurance that they can manage to raise their children by themselves and abuse victims will feel ever more trapped in horrific circumstances.

The question may have emerged to some: but what do we do? Every cut in spending has its victims but some things have to go, so what do we take? The answer is simple; never anything that is a lifeline to the most vulnerable of a society. I am not an expert on the budget or deficits, or for that matter domestic abuse. But common sense should surely dictate that if a plan would cause people to be locked into an abusive relationship; then it is not a good plan. The only way such an idea could be supported is if it went hand in hand with a government pledge to support women’s charities, the construction of more women’s shelters and a scheme of extensive financial assistance for abuse victims. However that is not the proposal as it stands, and therefore it has to be questioned.

Women are consistently the most discriminated against sector of society. Though they are present in every country, religion, and race, and make up 51% of the world’s population they are consistently at a disadvantage to their male counterparts. Any benefit cut that targets women then, is regressive and surely as a society we have rejected regressive tax and spending policies.