Select Committee on Social Security Report


Memorandum submitted by The Maternity Alliance (CB 17)

  1. The Maternity Alliance welcomes the proposed inquiry into Child Benefit and would like to make the following comments. The Maternity Alliance is a national charity which aims to improve the care, health, education, social support and employment rights given to parents before conception, during pregnancy, childbirth and in the first year of their child's life. We receive thousands of calls on our advice line every year with enquiries about maternity rights and benefits. However the one thing that we are very rarely asked about is Child Benefit and we believe that this is a measure of how successful the benefit is: it is well known and universal, so mothers do not need to ask us about it.

  2. The Maternity Alliance believes that Child Benefit is an essential benefit for the protection of children. Studies have shown that most mothers use Child Benefit to buy items for their children and that they take this expenditure very seriously.[120] Furthermore, many women who stay at home to care for their children have no other source of independent income apart from their Child Benefit. In many cases wages earned by the man are not evenly redistributed amongst other members of the family and women do not have equal access to the income. It has also been shown that men are less likely to set Child Benefit aside as being specifically to be spent on children. To tax Child Benefit would be to reduce the income of women who stay at home and that of their children. Child Benefit should continue to be paid directly to women and not to men via wages.

  3. Child Benefit as it currently exists is a horizontal redistribution of income in the community, from those who are childless to those who have children. This means that the whole community takes a part in sharing the costs of raising the next generation. To tax Child Benefit would be to redistribute it vertically from parents who have money to parents who do not. This detracts from the original purpose of ensuring fairness between those with children and those without and is likely to benefit single people more than anyone else. There are other ways of taxing people on higher earnings which do not single out those with children.

  4. At present, in order to claim Child Benefit a parent simply needs to be able to prove that they have a child. Claims are straightforward and can be dealt with rapidly and there is no need to reveal personal information to an employer or to the Benefits Agency. If Child Benefit were taxed this would no longer be possible, since every time circumstances changed a parent would have to give further information about circumstances, leading to delays in payment and increases in administration costs. Child Benefit as it now stands is completely reliable and regular and does not change with other changing circumstances, making it the one source of income that parents can really rely on. The Maternity Alliance is concerned that children should not be the ones to suffer financially because of financial upheavals in the family. Since Child Benefit is primarily for the benefit of children, any changes in the level of payment is likely to affect children.

  5. The Maternity Alliance recognises that there are major costs associated with the birth of a first child. There is a major impact on the family budget when a first child is born: indirectly because the mother is now out of the labour market (at least temporarily); and directly because of the cost of buying all the necessary clothes and equipment. Work undertaken by the Maternity Alliance and the Health Visitors' Association showed that in 1997 it cost up to £565 to buy essential items for a new baby. This cost is not necessarily fully repeated with subsequent children since much of the equipment can be re-used, but this is not always the case. In addition the lower payment for subsequent children does not reflect the fact that day-to-day expenses are the same for any child, be it a first or second sibling.

  6. The Maternity Alliance recognises that the extra costs associated with having a child do not start when the child is born, but during pregnancy. We therefore would welcome consideration of the payment of Child Benefit as an allowance to pregnant women, to help in particular with the cost of the healthy diet which is necessary for a healthy baby. Our own research has shown that eating a healthy diet in pregnancy is not possible for many women living on means-tested benefits.[121] The protection of children should be a prime function of welfare services and that must include protection of the health and welfare of mothers-to-be.

  7. The Maternity Alliance would be delighted to give any further evidence which the Committee requires.

September 1998

120   See Mother's Life-Line: a survey of how women use and value child benefit. Alison Walsh and Ruth Lister, CPAG, 1985. Back

121   Poor Expectations: poverty and undernourishment in pregnancy. Julie Dallison and Tim Lobstein, Maternity Alliance and NCH Action for Children, 1995. Back

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