Sunday 28 April 2024

Pinch Points

Remember that a vote for either main party would be a vote for that which Torsten Bell rightly decried:

There’s much talk of “fiscal pinch points” driving economic policy decisions. But there are moral pinch points, too. Not least when it comes to our children: for many in larger families, we have now come close to creating a poverty guarantee.

Since 2017, the two-child limit has prevented families from receiving child-related benefits for a third or subsequent child, worth about £3,200 per extra child. The result? Half of children in families with three or more children are now in poverty vs a third in 2011/12. And that’s before the policy’s full bite has been felt (by 2035, 750,000 families will be affected, vs 420,000 last year). These statistics risk sounding abstract, but the reality they reflect isn’t. While one in three smaller families are materially deprived, that proportion rises to three-quarters of larger families.

New work from the Nesta charity brings this home. In interviews with 35 parents affected, participants explained how it has cratered their finances, but also the impact it has had on children who go without the “toys and books” their elder siblings had. Parents report it harming their mental health, as well as their children’s.

The policy’s goal was for “families on benefits [to] face the same financial choices about having children as families supporting themselves through work”, the target being fewer births in bigger, poorer families. There’s little evidence this has happened. It’s made families poorer, not smaller. People either don’t know of the policy when making family decisions, or aren’t on benefits before sickness, unemployment or family breakdown changes their situation. The limit has to go. The costs are real (£2.5bn a year), but small compared to the damage. Abolition would lift half a million children out of poverty.

But when I tell you that there is going to be a hung Parliament, then you can take that to the bank. I spent the 2005 Parliament saying that it was psephologically impossible for the Heir to Blair’s Conservative Party to win an overall majority. I predicted a hung Parliament on the day that the 2017 General Election was called, and I stuck to that, entirely alone, all the way up to the publication of the exit poll eight long weeks later. And on the day that Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Keir Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

I have no plan to join the Workers Party of Britain, although nor would I expect to stand against it. But if it did not contest North Durham, then I would. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. But there does need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not. We have made a start.

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