The Tories: Making Children Pay.

This post was prompted by Sue Marsh’s post about the Benefit Cap. You can read it here.

**Edited to add: Now, with new OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! section at the end of the post!!**

The new benefits cap states that no-one will be able to claim more than £26K per year in benefits. This figure is based on a couple, but it also states that it doesn’t matter how many children this couple have it will still remain at a cap of 26K. The reasoning behind the 26K figure is because the coalition say that this is an average household’s income. As Sue rightly pointed out in her blog entry:

“Of course it isn’t, because families bringing in 26k are likely to get a whole host of tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit too, but let’s not spoil a good bit of spin eh?”

This got me thinking, and two things (among MANY issues with this whole idea) stood out for me.

  1. That 26K would be the average household income for most households.
  2. That it doesn’t matter how many children you have, you still get 26K

So, to test both these theories I had to do a few calculations. I tell a lie, I hopped over to the awesome website turn2us.org.uk who are brilliant at telling you your benefit entitlement just by you plugging your details into their website. I came up with a partly-biographical-partly-hypothetical family and created a couple of scenarios.

**note: in both these scenarios I just plugged in my and my partner’s details for simplicity – dates of birth, local authority, social housing, rent, council tax etc. The only difference was I made us both non-disabled so I could take that out of the equation. I also gave us three school-aged (10,7 and 5) children, all born on Jan 1st. Birthdays seem to be an expensive time in my fictional household. I also assumed we had the “allowed” number of bedrooms in both cases to take out any Bedroom Tax complications**

Scenario 1 – Married couple with 3 children. Both partners work 37 hours a week at £6.75 an hour (just over minimum wage) bringing our joint income to £26,000 (the “average income” figure from the government). No other earnings/savings/capital.

Scenario 2Exactly the same as above, but with neither partner working. No income of any sort recorded in the calculation.

Scenario 1 results:

hb1 A benefit allowance of £7,822.88. Add that to the income of £26,000 and you get a total of £33,822.88.

Scenario 2 results:

hb2A benefit allowance of £23,992.28. Which is £9,830.60 lower than the first scenario.

So, what does all this mean, really? Is this realistic? Possibly not entirely – the earned income is GROSS income for a start, so there will be some tax and NI to pay which will take it down a bit. But I think we can safely say that Sue’s thought that earning 26K would still get you additional benefits on top is clearly correct. – it gets you nearly £8,000 a year on top of your £26K.

But, I think this hypothetical scenario raises some interesting questions. Firstly, is this morally right? The Tories are all about “making work pay” and there’s no denying that the working fictional family is definitely better off than the unemployed one. Is this a good thing? Does this mean that our fictional unemployed family should “get off the sofa and look for work?” Maybe. But, to me the really worrying thing is about the rest of this fictional family. Our three fictional children.

Having our three fictional children has earned our non-working family an extra lump of cash, that’s for certain. But, the cap for benefits is set at 26K no matter how many children you have. This smacks of the “well, if you can’t afford ’em, don’t have ’em!” attitude but that doesn’t account for a massive amount of societal problems that cause people to have children they may not be able to afford. The lack of aspirations among young women who can only see themselves having kids as a future. People who haven’t been educated enough in sexual health to take proper precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancy. The closure of sexual health clinics, youth projects, sexual health workers whose job it was to bring down the rate of unwanted pregnancy.

I believe that you should not punish children for the actions of their parents. This policy of the benefit caps does exactly that. It is unethical, it will push more children into poverty and it will punish children for the acts of their parents, and punish parents for not being able to access resources they need. The policy is a punishment, not an incentive, and only does more to push the vulnerable further into poverty. It needs to go.

**if you feel my calculations or my conclusions are wrong in any way or you feel I’ve misinterpreted something, please let me know in comments. I’m very interested to see what people think.**

EDITED TO ADD: THE OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! CLAUSE (because I’m going to have to point this out 30 times in the comments otherwise…)

“But, the people on benefits will get their rent paid for them while the other family won’t, so it’s not accurate!”

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Please see Exhibit A. It’s a part of the benefits breakdown from Scenario 2, our family on benefits. As you can see, by the big red ring I’ve drawn round it, Housing and Council Tax Benefits are INCLUDED in this family’s total amount of money for the year.That means that, just like the working family have to pay their £500 a month of rent from their total income of £33,822.88, the family on benefits have to pay their £500 a month rent from their total income of £23,922.28. I haven’t missed anything out, both have to pay the rent.

(Seriously guys, trust me on this one. Not only am I currently on Housing Benefit myself, I worked for 3 years for the local council in their housing department and spent 8 hours a day talking to people about their rent and housing benefit. Please believe me when I say I know how Housing Benefit works!!)

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Let’s Talk About Sex

307491_139801916186045_388700540_nToday is Valentine’s Day. Today is also the day where One Billion Rising will be undertaking events all over the world to call for the end to violence against women and girls.

As part of this, there is a cross-party debate in Parliament today for sex education to include information about abuse and appropriate relationships. A recent article in The Guardian saw that young people going through secondary school now are still concerned about the quality of Sex Education they receive, saying that “…SRE is too much about sexually transmitted infections (STI) and saying no, and not enough about feelings and relationships.”

Sex Education has changed massively even since I was at school (which wasn’t that long ago!) Sex Ed in the 90s usually consisted of the biology approach, the classic video of a woman giving birth and giggling over the “reproduction” section of our science text books. If there was any more to it then I don’t remember it. We didn’t put a condom on a banana, we didn’t look at STIs or contraception. In fact, all my information about anything that wasn’t biology came from Just Seventeen magazine and their endless and brilliant articles, booklets and information on everything to do with sex, relationships and general Growing Up Stuff. It was invaluable.  However, that was then. Now, young people are a lot more clued up on all thing sex, and usually in a very positive way. From my experience working with young people in a variety of settings, most of them will know how to access free condoms, they’ll know about the implant, the injection or the pill and they’ll know how to protect themselves. A lot of schools are part of condom distribution and C Card schemes, those who have a school nurse are able to offer contraception services right there in the school for young people to access for free. It’s definitely come a long way. Young people are clued up.

But judging by the information coming from newspaper reports and campaigns like One Billion Rising, Sex Education needs to change again. Issues around healthy relationships, abuse and exploitation are not being covered, meaning that although we’re equipping our young people with the practical knowledge and equipment to keep themselves from getting an STI and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, we’re not equipping them mentally for the impact of having a relationship. The self-respect to say no, the means to keep themselves free from exploitation. And it’s not only for the girls! Young men need to be taught these things just as much as young women. The internet means that young people have access to a whole load of sexually explicit stuff a lot earlier, and they get extremely mixed and skewed messages as to what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. Respect, mutual consent and communication are not messages that young people usually pick up from pornography. They need an education that teaches them about relationships in the real world, not the one they might access through their computer.

But of course, for any improvement to Sex Education to happen, there needs to be a requirement for a high level of competency in the delivery of Sex Ed across the board. It should be a progressive process across education, teaching age-appropriate relationships education to kids from a young age. It should be required teaching. If young people are taught to respect and value themselves from a young age, it will be part of their development into an adult. It’s completely possible to teach sex and relationships education in whatever cultural or religious setting the young person is in, without indoctrinating them into believing sex is wrong, immoral, dirty or a taboo. In fact, teaching those things often means young people will find it more intriguing. Talking openly about sex and relationships removes the mystery and stops it from being a taboo. Facts are facts, and there’s still space within SRE to encourage discussion and debates around sex and morals as that’s what helps young people form their own opinions and make their own choices.

It’s time for Sex Education to take another step in its development. In order for this to happen I believe a number of things need to be put in place:

– Sex Education needs to be compulsory in secondary school. There needs to be a basic curriculum around sex, STIs, contraception and relationships that is compulsory teaching.

– Every school should have access to a professional who is trained in teaching PSHE to the appropriate level, and who is capable of delivering that curriculum.

– PSHE needs to focus just as much on relationships, sexuality, abuse and exploitation, and online safety as it does on STIs and contraception.

– People need to recognise that teaching young people about sex and relationships means they have knowledge to make decisions about their life, it means they are empowered to keep themselves safe and it stops sex from being an illicit taboo.

Sex Education has come on a lot since I was at school, but it needs to keep developing and progressing along with young people’s needs. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think that if we don’t talk about it then it’s not a problem. I’m hoping that the Government stops sticking on this issue and makes a proper step forwards on Sex Education.