Select Committee on Social Security Report


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 they work.

  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 vote.

  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 divorce—45 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 Sweden.

  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?

September 1998

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