Should Conservatives cap the number of children half the population can have?

Over the weekend Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP, floated the idea that child related benefits should be given for only the first two children that each family has. Whilst the leadership of the party has criticised this policy when applied to families in work they appear to be all for it when it only hits unemployed people. Department for Work and Pensions chief Ian Duncan Smith has previously said that it is unfair that the unemployed are “freed” from the decisions on whether they can afford to have another child. The problem with that is that it is utter rubbish.

This thoughtless policy represents a common misunderstanding of both the social security system in the UK and poverty and inequality in general. Many people assume that people in poverty stay poor and that people receiving government support are “stuck” on benefits. They think that just one sort of person receives benefits and that the people who don’t are entirely different. However, the evidence suggests that this isn’t the case.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ own stats tell the real story. The average length of time on unemployment benefits is less than 6 months, and one third of all claimants stop claiming in less than 3 months. More than a third of those on JSA have never claimed beforeResearch suggests that one third of the population will have experienced poverty over the last four years and that over a nine year period that jumps to almost half the population. Rather than the unemployed poor being a distinct group of people drawn from a small sample, it merely represents those who happen to be unlucky at any specific point in time and have come from half of the population.

In reality this is about inequality. Approximately 50% of the population is thought to be financially insecure. A study conducted by the DWP found that amongst those claiming unemployment benefits the most common reason for having left their last job was because they fell ill, the second most common reason is having to care for a child, relative or friend. All it takes is for the earner in a family to fall ill or for child care to fall through and anyone in half the population could be hit by this policy. The real meaning of this policy isn’t that those who are currently unemployed shouldn’t be having more kids, it’s that half the population shouldn’t have the right to have a third child. Meanwhile the top 1%, like Nadhim Zahawi, only have to worry about paying to heat their stables without the taxpayers help.

Tim Stacey, Policy and Campaigns Officer