Politicians fight over lots of different issues in general election campaigns, but one theme is a constant: they all try to appeal to ‘hard-working families’, by which they seem to mean mum, dad and a couple of kids.
It’s well-intentioned, I’m sure. But I’m equally sure I can’t be the only non-parent who finds it a teeny bit grating.
Not that I begrudge nuclear families any help that might coming their way. What I resent is the implication that just because I haven’t given birth, I’m somehow not counted among the ranks of deserving, diligent citizens.
The stereotype that we all live in identikit units of mum, dad and two children feels pretty anachronistic in the 21st century. The reality is, there are all kinds of non-nuclear constellations: blended families, single parents, step-families – and yes, there are also various childfree tribes, including the DINKS (dual income, no kids), the PANKs (professional aunts, no kids) and the PUNCLEs (the male equivalent.)
It isn’t even particularly unusual not to have children. Around one in five women go through life without having kids, whether by choice or circumstance.
No-one seems to know how many men are non-parents – why not is fascinating in itself – though it’s reasonable to assume a similar proportion.
Yet when it comes to financial planning, there is a dearth of advice tailored to the childfree.
To take a simple example, I’ve had advisers insist I need to take out life assurance even though as a non-parent without other dependents, I reckon I needed critical illness, private medical and redundancy cover rather more.
Overlooking non-parents looks like a missed opportunity for the financial services industry. The childfree are not automatically also free of financial worries (a stereotype that is, sadly, wide of the mark), not least because some of us have other family commitments, such as supporting an elderly parent.
But middle-class professionals without kids are likely to have more disposable cash – possibly a lot more. It’s impossible to put a price on the joys of parenthood, but a report last year by insurer LV and the Centre for Economics and Business Research had a go. It found it costs £231,843 to bring up a child from birth to age 21, including education, childcare, food, clothes, holidays and toys.
Add in a private day school and the bill rises to nearly £374,000 or an average of nearly £18,000 a year. In reality, it’s even more costly than that, because those expenses have to be paid out of taxable income. And the calculations don’t take into account the opportunity cost of one parent, usually the mother, almost certainly having to take time out of work and/or a cut in earnings.
Given that, it’s not hard to see why parents feel the childfree have it easy. Yet maybe, just maybe, the selfishness charge so often levelled at non-parents isn’t entirely justified.
For me and other childfree friends, it’s a pleasure to be able to afford to be generous with nieces, nephews and godchildren, to treat them to holidays and presents – and it’s often us who step in with the rescue money when they can’t make their rent. I also try to contribute in a small way to the next generation by sponsoring a child in Tanzania and by giving money to children’s charities.
That said, it’s not all about playing the fairy godmother. Those of us not stumping up for a couple of whippersnappers can use the funds to improve our own financial situation by, for instance, reducing debts, paying off the mortgage early and beefing up the pension plan.
Hurray – but at the back of the mind is the fact that, unlike our contemporaries who have embraced parenthood, there is absolutely no chance of payback time when we’re old, as there won’t be any adult children to help out.
Perhaps it’s just as well that some financial products aimed at older age groups may be more appealing to the childfree.
Equity release is one. These loans allow people to unlock capital from their properties without selling up – the interest rolls up and there’s nothing to be repaid either until they die or go into a care home. The big snag is it erodes the kids’ inheritance, but naturally, that’s far less of a drawback if you don’t have any.
On the subject of inheritance, it’s still important to make a will. Even if you don’t have children, you probably do have family and friends and they might miss out if you die intestate.
In that case, your estate would go to a surviving legally married spouse or civil partner. Failing that, it might go to uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces – or ultimately if there are no close family members, to the Crown. You might want to leave provision for a partner to whom you are not married or in a civil partnership, to close friends or to a carer, but they can’t inherit without a will. Nor can your favoured charities, your old university or any other pet cause.
Let’s not get too gloomy, though. At least if we DINKS, PANKS and PUNCLES want to blow our cash on sports cars and cruises, there won’t be purse-lipped adult children accusing us of SKI-ing, or spending the kids’ inheritance. Carpe Diem.
Ruth Sunderland is City Features Editor of the Daily Mail