Louise Bagshawe, the new Tory MP for Corby & East Northamptonshire, seemed keen (on twitter) for Labour supporters to defend child benefit remaining a universal benefit for all as opinioned by Ed Miliband on the Politics Show on Sunday.
This is the kind of politics that really annoys me and it is becoming ever more prevalent as we lurch closer and closer to the kind of politics the USA are forced to suffer. Lets deal with the issue at hand for now though, which is that millionaires can currently claim Child Benefit from the state. The problem for Louise Bagshawe is that this is a consequence of policy but not the objective. Child Benefit is currently not means tested, it is a completely universal benefit available to all who have children. The overwhelming majority of people who have children are not millionaires. What these 2 things mean is that Child Benefit is a) incredibly cheap & easy to administer (compared with means tested benefits) and b) spent on the right people in the vast majority of cases. I don't know of a state benefit anywhere in the world that would have different objectives.
My issue is that Louise Bagshawe knows this. She is intelligent enough to understand it. So why is she asking such stupid questions (in fairness, she is simply repeating the question that was put to Ed Miliband)? Well, maybe it's because it's such a great question to ask. If you believe in universal benefits then by default you have to agree that millionaires will get them too. Ed Miliband answered honestly yesterday and I feel he deserves credit for that and not scorn.
If Louise Bagshawe feels that universal benefits are not acceptable then she should argue that point on grounds of sensibility. Is it about saving the taxpayer money? So far we haven't seen detailed proposals that will show us how a means tested child benefit will be administered and how much, if any money it will save. Any professional business person will tell you that you don't advocate a policy until you know if it's going to save money or cost money. Is it about principle? If it is, say so. Don't use the defecit as political cover.
As it is, I think there is a problem with universal benefits. The idea of anyone earning over £100,000 getting any sort of state help is not one i'm comfortable with. If the Coalition can provide a solution that saves money and doesn't hit those with a real need for the benefit then i'm all for it. What i'm not in favour of is dumbing down the debate to nonsense hyperbole which is what seems to have happened here.