Well this past week has seen the Government in a spin with more U-turns than by the drivers at the sodden Canadian Grand Prix. One does rather get the feeling that the Coalition, or more specifically the Tories within the Coalition, have decided on quantity over quality when it comes to some policy. There are rumours that they have taken onboard Tony Blair's regret (from his self-aggrandising autobiography) that he did not set about the big legislation early enough in his terms. This in itself is quite a worry seeing as he went at about a law a day throughout his time in office. One imagines it was probably the only thing he could imagine he did wrong during his tenure too.
Whilst the quick action the Tories have made in some areas has been laudable (e.g. their swift work on deficit reduction appeased money markets keeping our astronomic borrowing from sinking us with interest rises), one wonders whether everything was fully thought through. They run the risk of losing public support to change intrinsic and systemic flaws in education, welfare and the NHS by going too quickly into policy making. It is possible as some individual reform policies begin to look unpopular, the fickle public might withdraw its backing for any type of (desperately needed) reform; throwing out the baby with the proverbial.
One area they should not be contemplating a U-turn, however, is the benefits cap. Not only should they not be 'bending to Lib Dem pressure' (is there such a thing?) because the Lib Dems have less leverage than ever (which I wrote about here), but they should stay the course because this is not only morally and economically a sound policy, but a vote winner. It is a small percentage of the population who will lose much from this, but some of them will lose a lot. These are more than likely not a demographic who are planning on voting Conservative, rather tending towards the Labour 'pay them to remain poor' camp. The people who would be happy to see this cap come in form a far greater part of UK society.
I genuinely believe the man in the street does not think it is right for some families to remain workless, produce children to their hearts' content, live somewhere nice and get the tab picked up by John and Jane Q. Taxpayer. I don't think the average Briton thinks it right that you can make more staying at home than at work, therefore I think making the cap at the average wage a particularly shrewd bit of political economics.
IDS certainly thinks the cap is still in place, but yesterday Lord Freud, the Tory welfare reform minister suggested that there would be exemptions from the cap because it would be "unfair to punish larger families". He went on to say that ministers would be looking hard to make sure large families were not treated unfairly. I must take umbrage with the word "fair", or "unfair". Yet again, a word bandied about with impunity. As long as you say "fair" anyone countering what you say must be "unfair" and therefore nasty and wrong. Nobody ever bothers to qualify or quantify fairness though - like how much tax one should pay in a "fair" world.
It is not fair for the rest of us who have to make informed decisions on how many children we can afford, or which areas we can afford to live in to have to do those things whilst supporting those who choose not to work but can have all of those things with none of the worries. I shan't totally drag back out my full thoughts on the matter, but if you fancy a refresh, they're here, here and here. Ultimately, the state is there to help you up when you need a hand. It's there to support the needy (I'll always caveat the welfare cap with those with serious disabilities). It is there to top up from time to time. It is not meant to be a long term way of life.
£26,000 is OK for the average Joe to survive on pre-tax, so one should not expect more than that from the Government (much of it un-taxed), under the banner of fairness or any other without having to lift a finger. If it costs more than that to live where you live, move. It's what everyone else has to do. If you can't afford to pay for more children, don't have them. It's what everyone else has to do.
It is "fair" to expect the Government to help you out provided you do your bit on your side, and that you don't take the piss. A third of the families currently receiving over the new cap are single parent families with a staggering 5 or more children. It's not the single parent part, telling though it may be, that is important here. It is the 5 or more children bit. I'd say it may well be fair to expect some help with your first couple of children, but after that? You're just taking out loans funded by taxpayers because you biologically can. So let us hope this U-turn frenzy that Dave and Co. have going on doesn't spread to the proper policies, and certainly not because of the Lib Dems or some bizarre idea of fairness.