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Coffee House

The political class’s new phobia: big families

5 April 2013

2:38 PM

5 April 2013

2:38 PM

After almost a week of media breast-beating about the Philpott case, a creepy consensus is emerging over benefits for children. Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative backbencher, wants child benefit to be limited in future to a family’s first two children. Lots of Tories agree. So does former Tony Blair speechwriter, Philip Collins. ‘This would save £3.3 billion if it were applied to all recipients,’ he writes in his Times column today. ‘Many working people take the responsible view that, though they would love another child, they cannot afford it.

Well, yes. No doubt out there is a degree of feckless fecundity among claimants, and that’s a bad thing. We should not incentivise greedy people to have children just so they can have more cash. But isn’t it a bit sinister to suggest that the state pay for a family’s first two children, and no more? Either the government supports children or it doesn’t. Cutting the payments off after two babies seems not only arbitrary, but cruel. Doesn’t a family of three need that extra 13.50 a week even more? Besides, the overall benefit cap that Iain Duncan Smith is introducing will stop any huge family  from claiming more than £500 a week. It will be harder for families with no breadwinner to live off government largesse.

Why then introduce the two-child policy? Why not reduce the amount given for each child instead? This issue goes deeper than money. Lots of people have accused the Daily Mail of stirring class war in the last few days. But the papers are guilty of fecundity-hate as much as chav-hate. As Madeleine Teahan notes, the Mail tried to suggest that Philpott’s potent depravity was somehow linked to his Catholic upbringing: ‘Philpott was born into a sprawling Roman Catholic family, where multiple marriages and large numbers of offspring were the norm,’ it reads. Multiple marriages the norm for Catholicism?

>Really? It’s the ‘large numbers of offspring’, though, that really worries the chattering classes, Left and Right. Children are expensive for the state and bad for the planet. The squeezed middle often do not have as many children as they want, so naturally they resent large poor families. But today big families seem to have become a politically acceptable phobia. There is a growing feeling that not having more than two children is somehow virtuous in and of itself, while having a large family without great wealth is  downright immoral. The government should not endorse such prejudices.

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