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
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.
The protection of children should be a prime function of welfare
services and that must include protection of the health and welfare
7. The Maternity Alliance would be delighted
to give any further evidence which the Committee requires.
120 See Mother's Life-Line: a survey of how women
use and value child benefit. Alison Walsh and Ruth Lister,
CPAG, 1985. Back
Poor Expectations: poverty and undernourishment in pregnancy.
Julie Dallison and Tim Lobstein, Maternity Alliance and NCH Action
for Children, 1995. Back