Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

In the long run, the cuts to Child Benefit announced today will hit the poorest hardest, as the principle of universal benefits is eroded, argues Nicola Smith.

The UK has provided universal benefits for children for just over 64 years. But today George Osborne has announced the end of universal Child Benefit, an essential source of financial support which provides families with a secure and constant source of income as they bring up their children. Today’s announcement is at odds with the then shadow Chancellor’s speech to the Tory party conference a year ago, in which he said: “We will preserve Child Benefit.”

It also breaks campaign promises made by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, resulting in a large tax rise for any family where one household member is a higher rate taxpayer. Child Benefit is not taxed, so for affected families with one child this is a loss of £1,055.60 a year, and for larger families there will be an additional £696.80 penalty per child annually.

These cuts will be felt by families up and down the country – the loss of income is significant. But of even greater concern is the step that this cut marks towards the residualisation of the welfare state. Universal benefits are essential to the welfare state’s existence. As post-war UK welfare developed, Richard Titmuss argued in favour of universalism, maintaining that ‘services for the poor will always be poor services’.

This still holds true – as the Fabians have comprehensively shown:

“… both the coverage of welfare policy and the distributive principle underpinning it are crucial in shaping attitudes to welfare… policies with narrow coverage divide the population into groups, who may then think about their interests and identities in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, whereas policies with wide coverage align interests and identities so that we are ‘in this together’.”

Their research has found that welfare institutions that are focused only on the poorest do less well at reducing poverty than “broadly based systems which aim to reflect a shared sense of citizenship across society”.

This makes intuitive sense. Once middle and higher earners are completely excluded from state welfare the generosity of the system begins to deteriorate as political pressure for its maintenance reduces. This is not an argument against welfare spending on the poorest – those in the lowest income deciles already receive significantly more in welfare than those with higher incomes (and arguably should receive far higher payments) – but a strong case against the complete withdrawal of state support from those higher up the income scale.

Universal systems are also (as pensions minister Steve Webb understands) the best and most efficient means to promote benefit take amongst all households – including those in greatest need. Professor John Hills makes the case well:

“A consequence of means-testing can be that stigamized services or benefits fail to reach all of their targets because of lack of take-up by those entitled. Targeting by means-testing can be efficient in one sense – achieving the result that only those who are the prime focus of the policy benefit – but inefficient in another, if those who are the intended beneficiaries miss out.”

Means testing increases complexity, stigma and confusion. While take up rates for Child Benefit are currently close to 100 per cent, rates for means tested benefits are therefore far lower. In future years, as a result of the Chancellor’s announcement, we can expect these take up rates to fall, with poverty rates consequently increasing. Last year the Government’s Child Poverty Unit concluded:

“There are 400,000 children living in poverty as a result of families not claiming all the benefits and tax credits to which they are entitled.”

There are also many unanswered questions about how the new arrangements will actually work. While today’s announcement has been billed as a measure that avoids means testing, the reality is that this system will inevitably be more complex – any restriction in entitlement is by definition a means test.

At present Child Benefit is paid directly into the bank account of the nominated carer, and employment and other details about other family members are not required. As a minimum a longer form, requiring recipients to provide details of all earners in their households, will now be involved. Fraud levels can also be expected to rise, as can administration costs, payment delays and levels of public misunderstanding.

It is also far from clear how parents will be expected to react if their incomes change – a particular benefit of Child Benefit is that it provides security when incomes fluctuate. Income changes in particular raise the possibility of overpayments and underpayments – of the sort that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, while in opposition, were always keen to criticise when they occurred in the tax credit system.

If lower income parents receive a pay rise will they now be expected to report to the Revenue so that their Child Benefit can be cut? And if someone’s household income falls how quickly will the Revenue be able to make their child benefit available? What will this mean for separated couples, where one parent retains primary caring responsibility but receives maintenance payments from a higher rate taxpayer?

There are also important unanswered questions about women’s pension rights, as Child Benefit claims entitle women caring for children, while their partners work, to have National Insurance contributions and credits paid into their state pension account.

As well as complicating a universal system, this means test will have differential impacts among households depending on how many people work and their particular individual earning levels. A household with one earner paying higher rate tax, and another who is not in work, will lose their Child Benefit. In contrast, a household with two earners on £43,000 will still receive it.

Households with incomes above £80,000 will receive the benefit, while those with incomes just over £44,000 will have their benefit cut. And for all of the recent talk of work incentives, the taper rate for Child Benefit will be 100 per cent – it may well make more economic sense for some households, particularly larger families, to reduce their hours rather than move just over the income tax band and experience a tax rise of several thousand pounds a year.

We also know that far greater cuts for middle income families are on the way – despite all of the positive spin around Universal Credit, reports suggest that the rate at which the benefit will be withdrawn once a member of the household enters employment (the ‘taper’) will be around 65p in the pound.

This is more generous than the rate at which some benefits are withdrawn – for example once a household has an earned income Housing Benefit is withdrawn at a rate of 85p in the pound – but far less generous than others, specifically Tax Credits which are currently withdrawn at a rate of 39p in the pound. This will inevitably mean  that many families who currently receive Tax Credits are going to see further significant income cuts.

Today’s announcement is extremely bad news for working families – both those who will no longer receive Child Benefit and those who will now inevitably see the value of their benefits and Tax Credits fall in the future as the principle of universal welfare in the UK is further eroded.

UPDATE 17.30:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, Channel 4’s Cuts Check and the ippr think tank all add their pennies worth on the cuts with some worrying reading for the Government.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

126 Responses to “Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run”

  1. James Mills

    RT @abelardinelli: RT @leftfootfwd Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run:

  2. Martin Tiedemann

    RT @shamikdas: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run: explains the TUC's Nicola Smith on @le …

  3. Vercingetorix

    Aside from taxing people on £100k at 90%, is there any policy to address the deficit that Left Foot Forward thinks will not hit the poor hardest?

  4. Nicola Smith

    Dear Vercingetorix,

    You do not have to be against deficit reduction to be against these cuts. Left Foot Forward has shown, for example, that there is a huge difference between the current Government’s deficit reduction plans, and those of the previous administration: Labour’s plan was achievable without this child benefit cut. The TUC also recognises the importance of reducing the deficit, but we argue that cuts now will only make the public finances worse as economic growth slows and the tax take falls. Our case is set out here:


  5. KingCnutCase

    I have always thought it rather strange that the left has a view of human nature that says that at heart we are all really altruistic and communitarian (bar a few rotten banker apples) but at the same time says that we must have universal benefits because essentially the better off cannot be trusted to fund decent benefits for the poor unless they are bribed to do so by the system. It is logically inconsistent.

  6. Andrew Roche

    Just read: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  7. Andy Howell

    RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  8. Anon E Mouse

    Nicola Smith – This is sheer lunacy to suggest that just to keep your dated “universal” model you would ask the taxes of those in our country on minimum wage to pay for benefits for the middle classes.

    It’s like reverse socialism at best and nit picking just for the sake of it…

    Rob the poor to pay the richer. No wonder Labour lost the election…

  9. UK To means test child benefit - Page 7

    […] article on why cutting child-benefit is a bad idea. What a vindictive nation we are turning into – that […]

  10. Nicola Smith

    Dear Anon E Mouse,

    I am not proposing that those in our country on minimum wage pay for child benefit for the richest. I am proposing that we have a system of fair and progressive taxation where the best off contribute the most, and some benefits remain universal to ensure continued support for the continuation of the welfare state.


  11. Mr Jabberwock

    Opposing this reform just looks daft. Nowhere in the article do you explain how removing a benefit to a £44K income family hurts the poor. Your argument that services that are not universal are poor services is a reasoned argument. But child benefit is not a service, it is not an institution, it is a payment.

    Your argument that this is bad because what happens if your income changes is tenuous. There is no reason why you should not be able to claim child benefit whatever your income, simply it can be claimed back from you in tax if you have a high enough income come the end of the year – so you keep claiming it unless you are certain that your income is over the higher rate tax band. Not a single extra form required to claim child benefit.Simple

    Opposing this change can only be idealogical.

  12. Nicola Smith

    Dear Mr Jabberwock,

    The argument about services applies to benefit payments – when there are no universal payments the levels of other payments (that are only received by the poorest) are far easier for Governments to cut – we know this happens, if you want to see all of the evidence read The Solidarity Society published by the Fabians.

    I agree with you that if the policy is introduced it would give families more protection to continue to claim the benefit and then have it claimed back at tax rate of 100 per cent, so their tax could reduce if their income fell, but this is not what the Chancellor is proposing – he is on record today encouraging families where one adult pays higher rate tax to stop claiming all together. And there are still complications – what about when a family gets divorced and one parent with no income is suddenly left with no child benefit and no pay? What if a parent is self-employed and their business goes bust but their tax is only calculated annually? What if a higher earning family member moves onto long-term sickness payments or maternity pay – will Child Benefit be paid to these households if they are still registered for benefit payments, but not if they have ceased to claim altogther, or will they not recieve them as their salaries still place them in the higher rate? This is a new means test, and it will inevitably increase admin costs, confusion, over/under payments and less income security for families.


  13. idle pen pusher

    If cutting benefits for those earning over £44k hurts the poor hardest, presumably increasing benefit payments to those earning over £44k would benefit the poor most?

  14. Nicola Smith

    Dear Idle Pen Pusher

    No it would not, but it is the case that the residulisation of welfare will hurt the poor in the longer-term – as is demonstrated by evidence from around the world. I am arguing against removing all universal benefits from higher earners, not in favour of increasing benefits for higher earners at the expense of poorer households.


  15. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Once the link to universal benefits is broken it can only be a matter of time to the the return of the Poor House and indentured servitude.

    We had a welfare state that involved everybody, what Sniffy is planning is dog boiler heaven, marginalise the middle class / income element of society and then he can go after the poor with that special Bullingdon hatchet of his.

    Top notch politics, slake the anger of the middle class with the blood of the feckless poor. So good that you wonder why Dave the Rave necver mentioned it defore the election.

  16. Ash

    The case for universalism is counterintuitive but persuasive – I hope people will take the time to look into the Fabian research on this before settling for a kneejerk ‘cuts for the rich, what’s the problem?’ response.

    And this business about the poor paying for the riches’ benefits is just rubbish – the rich easily cover the costs of their own child benefit and more besides. For a well-off individual, child benefit is essentially a small tax rebate in recognition of the fact that they have children to care for. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it helps foster people’s sense that the cornerstones of the welfare state (Child Benefit, the NHS, the state pension) are there for everyone and not just a ‘safety net’ for the poor.

    What I find most striking about this is the way it reveals the depths of the Tories’ ideological commitment to cuts. If you want higher rate taxpayers to make a £1 billion contribution to reducing the deficit, the simple, fair and sane solution is to put a penny on the 40p and 50p tax rates – that way every higher-rate taxpayer makes a modest contribution. Why on earth would you instead ask the least well off higher rate taxpayers (NB: a single-income two-parent family with 3 kids on £44000 would be in the bottom half of the income distribution) to bear the whole burden, with a bill of £2,000 or so per typical family?

    Answer: just so you can say you cut spending, or hit your target of an X% reduction in the welfare budget, rather than (horrors!) raising taxes.

    And for that they’re prepared to wind up everyone from the Fabian Society to the Daily Mail. Bizarre.

  17. Mr Jabberwock


    Thanks for engaging in the comments – that is appreciated.

    Your argument is that if the benefit is £100 and universal it makes it harder to cut as all voters feel the pain than if it is £100 and paid only to 90% and progressively so as the % falls. I am afraid the argument is massively outweighed by the cost in these times. This is a relatively lower pain cuts than many that will have to be made, even on the Darling plan. So maybe we just disagree about the relative importance of other cuts.

    On the second point it isn’t an argument against the cut to say it could be implemented badly! As I understand it, and I may be wrong, you will be able to claim the benefit as I describe. If that is the case Osbourne can encourage people all he likes they will keep claiming it if there is even the slightest chance that they may face an income of below the threshold.

  18. Hazel Chowcat

    RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  19. Ash

    Mr Jabberwock –

    “This is a relatively lower pain cuts than many that will have to be made”

    – fair point, but why not just raise £1 billion in taxes from higher rate taxpayers? Same financial impact (albeit more fairly shared out), and you preserve universal CB.

  20. Grant Streader

    RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run:

  21. Kevin Dykes

    RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  22. Matt Nicholas

    @SteveMepham see Left Foot Forward ( ) for the importance of universal benefits in helping the genuine poor.

  23. pauline

    Should you not have children unless you can support them.The state should not be paying for them.I think that all child benefit should be stopped for all.

  24. Stephen W

    “fair point, but why not just raise £1 billion in taxes from higher rate taxpayers? Same financial impact (albeit more fairly shared out), and you preserve universal CB.”

    That’s effectively exactly what they are doing. Why are lefties such ingrained statists that they immediately support a £1 billion tax rise on higher rate taxpayers and immediately oppose a £1 billion cut in benefits for higher rate tax payers. They’re effectively the same thing. Their only concern seems to be maximising the amount of money hallowed by passing through the hands of the blessed state. It’s so strange.

  25. Fat Bloke on Tour

    One issue that has not been highlighted here is the fact that the cut is aimed at children all be it children with one high earning parent. I wonder when Sniffy will start to cut at the entirlements available to pensioners and if he does who and what income level will be targetted?

    I will not be holding my breath waiting for an answer to that question. Children are an easy target, why not a new tax on dog food or an extra tax on motability scooters of KY jelly?

    It is only £1bill we are talking about, not a huge amount in the big scheme of things but significant to many who will see their incomes reduced.

    One question, what is the average income of a two adult household today? As noted previously the one income household will be badly hit if their income is above £44K.

    Final thought on this, is Sniffy the warm up act for a Dave the Rave special on the taxable situation of a two adult, one income family?

    The politics of the family allowance change is risible, especially for a family friendly Tory, so is this only the warm up act for his marriage bonus big idea?

    How would the figures look if part 2 involved the introduction of a transferrable tax allowance from the non working partner to the working partner?

    £7K @ 40% = £2.8K or the FA for four children.

    Go the whole hog and transfer all the entitlements would see a single earner couple pay 40% tax when the single income reaches £88K.

    Sniffy takes the flack.
    Dave the Rave takes the plaudits?

    There must be more to this change than meets the eye.
    The politics are crap, the economics are crap and the social justice aspect is crap.

    For the record MN, hold your head in shame.
    I take it Barnados are hoping to get back into the workhouse market?
    Political innocent with a well timed and targetted article.
    I wonder who paid the 40 pieces of silver?
    The Grauniad or the Tory party?

  26. Trixie

    Surprisingly or not most non doms will get to keep their child benefit because they have low UK income for tax purposes, whilst a widow of a soldier from the Iraq war with £44K income and three children to support will lose her child benefit. Tory fairness I guess!

  27. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Stephen W

    Sniffy is taking £1bill away from the children of higher rate tax payers.

    Not all higher rate tax payers are in receipt of FA.
    Consequently the cut is targeted at children.

    Surely you can see the difference and work out what change would be the more socially justified.

    Sniffy and the dog boilers are doing this as a way of reducing middle class / income support for the welfare and benefits that the poor rely on.

    MN please take note.

  28. Mr Jabberwock


    That is a fair question.

    But why do you say it is more fairly distributed. I do recognise the argument to tax and benefit on the basis of need; (but real not relative need) but unless you think all of us should have an equality of income once you get to the top 10% of incomes (higher rate tax payers as I understand) there is no reason for you to tax Ms Jones whose children are 19 and 20 to pay for Ms Smith whose children are 14 and 16. That is just arbitrary redistribution not fairness. Should we tax Someone who earns #1M to increase the income of someone who earns #200K. No off course not.


    Good post re welfare reform RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  30. Ash

    Mr Jabberwock

    “there is no reason for you to tax Ms Jones whose children are 19 and 20 to pay for Ms Smith whose children are 14 and 16”

    Why not? When Ms Jones’s children were 1 and 2, a then-childless Ms Smith was being taxed to pay for her. Now she’s the one with extra costs to meet and Ms Jones is in a position to return the favour. There’s nothing arbitrary about that arrangement, surely?

  31. rothman mcmiller

    Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run #blogs

  32. Mark Everden

    @lukewrightpoet Re: child benefits…this worth a read 🙂

  33. Financial Articles

    Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run and related posts

  34. edwin lubanga

    "Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run" and related posts: Left Foot Forw…

  35. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – After wading through all your normal drivel, am I to assume then that you think it’s OK to take minimum wage taxes and give them to rich peoples children?

    Is it OK in your world to take a proportion of a shelf stacker on the night shift in Tesco’s money and give it to Eric Clapton for his daughter?

    Because currently the shelf stacker pays it and Clapton receives it.

    There was a time when Labour cared about the plight of the poor you know. Or maybe you don’t…

  36. James Hubbs

    "Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run" and related posts

  37. Lucy Chambers

    Some interesting thoughts about the child benefit cut: & All I know is that #DavidCameronisacunt

  38. Auto Insurance

    "Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run" and related posts

  39. small business loans california

    But for credit card, I am talking about Universal Credit. The new system will carry a guarantee that anyone taking a job will be better off than if they were on the dole, with claimants allowed to keep more of their benefits when they enter work or increase their hours.

  40. Mr. Sensible

    Pauline, we get that kind of argument all too frequently.

    If you have a child, and then for whatever reason your situation changes; 1 of you loses their job, or whatever, then what?

    And Mouse, Cameron himself admitted that people on £44000 are not ‘the super rich.’ Is it fair that a household where both parents work and get £40000 each (a combined income of £80000) get their Child Benefit, but a household with only 1 person working and an income of £44000 does not?

    I have to say, I think it is interesting that this policy seems to be a departure from the right’s traditional view of the family; man works, woman looks after household.

    We could better close the deficit by clamping down on tax avoidence, increasing the bank levy and helping the economy to grow.

    That is a better idea than this approach, which has caused trouble in Osborne’s own exempler; Ireland.

  41. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Mr Mouse

    Any update on the many members of your extended family who work in the public sector, how many are currently waiting to find out if they have been deemed surplus to requirements by the dog boilers of the ConDemNation?

    Regarding the issue being discussed, two points:

    Universal benefits are an integral part of the welfare state.
    Welfare state = Everybody involved, everybody gains at some level.
    Take out the universal element and you are left with the Workhouse, the Poor law and the Parish.

    Dave the Rave and Sniffy talk about Economics 1930 style now we are looking at Welfare 1830 style. They have destroyed in 150 days what took a century to build. High productivity dog boilers is the only way to describe them.

    Second point if the need for money was so great and I dispute that contention then would njot have been fairer to target all 40% tax payers and not just their children?

    That brings the big question to the fore, why are we targetting children for £1bill, why aren’t they looking at taking money and benefits away from pensioners who pay higher rate tax?

    Either they are and they are not brave enough to announce it first or they are not because they fear the electoral backlash. Both suggest that the top of the Tory party is populated by shitebags.

    Finally as noted earlier what about those who can work around the system, people who generate considerable income outwith the PAYE framework?

    Non doms – Hat tip to Trixie.
    Self employed plumbers – Cash that will do nicely!
    Dividend junkies – Where does corporation tax fit into this?
    Personal Service Companies – Contractors winning again?

    Consequently this is just the first step, a softening up exercise before the real work begins.

  42. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – (My younger daughter is having her hours cut at the local council but that’s from Alistair Darling since like the rest of us no one knows until 20th October what the cuts are – thanks for asking though)

    Your line “Welfare state = Everybody involved, everybody gains at some level” – rubbish. Everybody pays for it at some level and the state are employed to administer it.

    So my oppo pays tax for Child Benefit to be given to his wife. Nuts.

    And so all the (usual) waffle aside from you it is fair to conclude that you indeed think it is OK to take the Tesco shelf stackers money to give to Eric Clapton.

    True colours for once FBoT…

    Sensible – “We could better close the deficit by clamping down on tax avoidence, increasing the bank levy and helping the economy to grow.”

    Why can’t we do both? This isn’t a Labour government you know…

  43. Paul Keeley

    RT @LucyBloot: Some interesting thoughts about the child benefit cut: & All I know is that #D …

  44. Jo C

    RT @leftfootfwd: Child Benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest in the long run

  45. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Mr Mouse

    As always your reply sounds more like a cry for help than a detailed political argument.

    Consequently please stick to my main point, take universal benefits out of the welfare state and what are you left with?

    The workhouse, the Poor Law and the Parish.
    We have been here before and it didn’t work.
    Consequently is that you want welfare policy to be?

    Child benefit should be universal.
    No matter the circumstances having a child means extra expense.
    Consequently this is only a softening up exercise for the slash and burn stuff to come.

    Finally when will you stop all this pretence that at some point in the dim and distant past you voted Labour?

    Love your last comment about helping the economy to grow, you really are having a laugh if you think we are on the cusp of some great private sector led national re-birth.

    More like Dave the Rave will turn out to be the Grocer Mk2 as his bottle crashes due to the mess his economic illiteracy leaves the country in.

    One thing that never ceases to surprise me is the fact that an economic crisis and a climate for cuts brings out the worst in people. It is a case of every man for themselves to a chorus of kitchen table economics, homespun philosophy aka greed and delight in the suffering of others plus a fear that makes people turn on their neighbour rather than aim their ire at those who have both caused the problems and benefitted from the solutions.

  46. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – I’m working and you tend to write essays so addressing your points is not easy.

    Told you I voted for that winner Tony Blair – not your “Gordon Brown” useless version of the party – and I’m not alone. Ed Miliband articulated many of the points I have been making on this blog for months.

    I would also wager that in May when Labour had it’s second worst election result ever and lost over 5 million voters, most of the people in the South East were Blair supporters.

    You are living pre Ed Miliband FBoT – you really need to move on. The policies you claim are OK have just been hammered by the electorate – you are fighting the last election that was comprehensively rejected by the voters.

    Regarding the economy I find that line amusing also but I didn’t make it. That’s why it’s in quotation marks and it’s from one of Labour’s biggest supporters on this blog, Mr.Sensible – read the whole page please.

    At least we both agree about the delusional ideas for deficit reduction by Labour activists. Told you we’d be friends FBoT…

    So you do think it’s right to use the shelf stacker’s taxes to give benefits to Eric Clapton then because cutting through all your waffle I still fail to see a criticism of that position…

  47. Harry

    This looks a good deal for the welfare of people. The child benefit scheme when cut brings the poor people to a pathetic situation. Only the poor will be the sufferers now…….

  48. Alternative Finance » Blog Archive » The wilderness zone of 100% (or more) tax

    […] tipping over £44,000 of income there is not a single extra penny of benefit they can earn from the next £2,970 they earn. All will be absorbed in tax, NI, and lost child benefit. […]

Leave a Reply