Mark Wadsworth

This is a spare 'blog in case my main 'blog at markwadsworth.blogspot.com isn't working

Nice bit of Indian Bicycle Marketing…

Zoe Williams, kicks off an article on Comment is Free titled “The reason mothers work – and Tories try to stop them” with this bald claim:

Benefit cuts, childcare costs and marriage tax breaks are forcing families back into a single breadwinner model”

1. None of her assertions or inferences are true (to any great extent), but you must always remember that the behaviour of the three big UK parties is summed up in the book 1984:

2. Under this lies a fact never mentioned aloud, but tacitly understood and acted upon: namely, that the conditions of life in all three super-states are very much the same… It follows that the three super-states not only cannot conquer one another, but would gain no advantage by doing so. On the contrary, so long as they remain in conflict they prop one another up, like three sheaves of corn. And, as usual, the ruling groups of all three powers are simultaneously aware and unaware of what they are doing.

3. To wit, if a stereotypical Tory voter reads that article, he will think “Hurray! Stick it to those benefit scrounging cheats! A mother’s place is in the home and so bring on those marriage tax breaks!” and a stereotypical Labour voter or feminist will think “Boo! Those nasty Tories are slashing benefits, preventing mothers from going to work and imposing their patriarchal view on society!”. A Lib Dem voter probably muddles his way between the two.

4. So, that first sentence reinforces whatever prejudices people had anyway, and makes them more likely to vote for whichever party they were going to vote for anyway. The interesting bit is why the Tory government doesn’t point out that these claims are not true; benefit rates have not been reduced, the Tories have merely tinkered at the edges a bit; childcare costs are dictated by childcare providers, not the government; and there is not, as yet, an actual tax break for marriage (unless I missed that memo?)

5. The answer is, there would be no advantage to the Tories of doing so; no stereotypical Labour voter is going to vote for them anyway, and if they admitted that welfare policies have developed piecemeal under both Labour and Tory governments without any big swings in either direction, then they’d lose the support of the stereotypical Tory voters.
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When you read the article, the only example of benefit cuts she can actually point out is that the childcare element of Working Tax Credits now only covers 70% and not 80% of eligible childcare costs, which is true. However, this does not mean that people have to pay 30% rather than 20% of childcare costs – which would be a fifty per cent increase – it is far less dramatic than that:

a) You couldn’t 80% of the full amount anyway, the amount for which you can claim is capped at £175 a week for one child and £300 a week for two or more children. You had to pay the rest yourself.

b) For children aged three to five, there is a much better system, a leftover from the Tory government of the 1990s, called Early Years Funding. If you send your child to nursery, the council just gives you a voucher/part payment of 15 hours x about £4 a week, i.e. £60; non-means tested, non-contributory, sorted. Remember: the Tories increased this from 12.5 hours to 15 hours last September, so that’s an extra £10 a week for millions of parents.

c) The eligible amount (from a) was reduced by the amount of EYF you got anyway, you only were entitled to claim 80% of the net amount.

d) The fact that you can claim for 80% or 70% of something does not mean that you will get it; the childcare element of Working Tax Credits are reduced by 41 pence for every £1 that either parent earns (this used to be 39 pence, long story) above a certain threshold. So if the two parents earn e.g.£22,000 between them a year, they lose £6,388 a year of their tax credits, i.e. £123 a week.

e) So let’s assume that these two parents have two children at nursery and one is aged three to five, and it costs them £350 a week. They can only claim for £300 minus 1 x £60 EYF = £240 a week, their maximum entitlement is £240 x 70% = £168, and they lose £123 of this (see d) so they get £45 tax credits plus £60 EYF = £105.

f) Using 80% and 12.5 hours EYF, they would claim for £300 – £50 = £250 x 80% = £200, reduced by £123 = £77, plus £50 EYF = £127.

g) So their net nursery costs have gone up from £223 to £245, which is only a ten per cent increase, and not the fifty per cent increase which the article suggests.

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