Memorandum submitted by The British Housewives'
League (CB 4)
The British Housewives' League would like to
thank the Committee for the invitation to submit written evidence
on Child Benefit.
1. The League has historically supported the
payment of a state benefit as an untaxed allowance per child,
paid to the home-based parent. Traditionally that parent has been
the mother who might otherwise have had no income other than the
breadwinner's contribution to the housekeeping. In the present
circumstances we would prefer all families to have an allowance
which can go towards any of the expenses which arise from the
rearing of children, whether it is child care, food, heating,
or clothes. The needs of children change as they grow but there
is a cost to society of a culture which says that mothers of very
young children must go out to work whilst their children are cared
for by hirelings. For that reason we would favour an increased
child benefit in place of state funded child care for pre-school
children. Children have other needs than mere supervision.
The preparation of meals and the maintenance of the home are also
necessary for family life. Child care may enable both parents
to go out to work but in consequence their housekeeping will be
neglected and in the case of illness there is no one to nurse
the invalid at home without debilitating the work force where
2. As children grow up and attend school so
does the individual attention they need in the home decrease.
This gives the home-based parent time to have a part-time job
to boost the family income, whilst still being able to maintain
the home and perform any nursing responsibilities.
3. Child Benefit will not cover the cost of
raising a child, but it does provide a useful supporting income
whilst a child is living at home and attending school. The main
responsibility for providing for a child should be left to the
parents as this provides a worthy incentive for all other endeavours.
The resources of the state and the taxpayer need then only be
mobilised in a supporting role.
4. This formula presupposes that the traditional
family structure has the support of the Government. As your Committee
has recorded in the report entitled Social Security Reforms:
Lessons from the United States of America [HC 552, 11 February
1998] Mr Robert Rector, Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage
Foundation, claims that the best environment for raising children
is where there are two parents with one parent at home (paragraph
11, page 23). The formula which the Government appears to favour
is Mr Rector's second and third options, i.e., two parents with
both working or one parent working. The fourth and worst option
has been shown to be the one parent not working and at home with
a welfare cheque, whilst the worst environment of all for children
is where there is a pattern of serial cohabiting partners which
Mr Rector described as "a devastatingly bad thing."
5. This Government although not party to the
Council Recommendation dated 31 March 1992 on child care, must
be influenced by it even though a Recommendation is not obligatory.
However this Recommendation refers to the Community Charter of
the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers which lays down that
`Measures should also be developed to enable men and women to
reconcile their occupational and family obligations' and to the
Commission's Action Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women
and Men (1991-1995) and to "the importance of intensifying
work relating to child care", and that "better child-care
services could facilitate freedom of movement of workers and mobility
on the European labour market."
6. Under its New Opportunities for Women programme
the EC Structural Fund finances projects to promote equal opportunities,
including child-care facilities. The Council Recommendation suggests
that Member States should promote and encourage the "sharing
of occupational, family and upbringing responsibilities arising
from the care of children between women and men" and increased
participation by men, in order to achieve a more equal sharing
of parental responsibilities between men and women and to enable
women to have a more effective role in the labour market."
7. Three objectives of government, agreed by
the 1989 European Council relating to the "inter-relationship
of families, the labour market and equal opportunities between
men and women", may conflict with the interests of children
and family life. Article 5 of the Protocol on Social Policy in
the Maastricht Treaty says that "the Commission shall encourage
co-operation between the Member States and facilitate the co-ordination
of their action in all social policy fields under this Agreement."
Decisions under the Protocol are taken by a qualified majority
8. We are told that your Committee will be inquiring
into "international comparisons." The European Commission
has produced a guide to good practice on implementing the Council
Recommendation in which it looks towards Norway and Sweden for
examples. In Sweden social insurance is universal and is financed
through the tax system. Parental insurance, known as parental
benefit, applies to all parents residing in Sweden and relates
to the care of children up to the age of eight. Four hundred and
fifty days of paid leave, on a sliding scale related to sickness
benefit, can be had of right during those first years. Where two
parents have joint custody, 30 of those 450 days are father specific.
Sweden has a very high incidence of divorce45 per cent
of marriages are dissolved (although 80 per cent of pre-school
children live with both parents according to a 1996 Fact Sheet
published by the Swedish Institute (FS 86iOhfb]). Recently the
age at which children in Sweden start school has been reduced
from seven to six. There are Government recommended educational
programmes for pre-school and leisure time centres. In these centres
children are encouraged to seek knowledge for themselves and form
their own opinions. In addition Child allowance is payable per
month and per child for children under 16 residing in Sweden.
Special benefit for families of three or more children is being
phased out. For children over 16 attending compulsory school,
extended child allowance is payable at the same rate as the general
child allowance. There is also a housing allowance related to
size of family. Both allowances are entirely financed by taxes.
Sweden, like other Member States, is obliged to apply certain
international rules on co-ordination of social insurance for people
who migrate from one country to another. However, to earn or obtain
payment of benefit requires Swedish citizenship or residence in
9. It is hard to make recommendations without
taking into account the EC dimension. Without a national veto
we may have to accept decisions which are not "child friendly."
It must be right to question a policy which calls for women to
work, not as carers of their own children but as child care workers,
under schemes supported by the Commission.
10. This raises the questions: Will the Committee
consider suggestions which are not in accord with the Council
Recommendation? Equally can the Government support suggestions
which do not reflect the Council Recommendation and the Social
Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty?