George Osborne’s announcement today that from 2013 Child Benefit payments will be axed for any family with a parent earning enough to put them in the 40-50%  income tax bracket is neither “fair” nor “right” as some commentators would have us believe: it’s actually an attack on the basic principles of the welfare state, and it’s an attack on women.

Before I get into how and why that is this though I just want to make something clear. By 2013 none of my 4 children will be eligible for Child Benefit, so I have absolutely no vested interest in this issue. This is not about me trying to preserve something for myself; the decision to cut Child Benefit will make no difference to me personally one way or another.

Right, so now I’ve got that out of the way, here’s the problem.

Child Benefit, or Family Allowance as it used to be called, is a universal benefit, and it’s universal for a reason. As Yvonne Roberts said in the Guardian last year:

“It’s precisely because child benefit is universal and not means-tested that it lays down a marker of mutuality in society that has a value that must not be sacrificed. It says that children matter and this cash, paid to the mother, is highly likely to be spent on their welfare.”

It’s a recognition if you like that children are valued, and that society as a whole has an obligation to support its children. It’s not, as some have said, a “reward” for having children, it’s society’s (small) contribution to its children’s welfare.

More importantly though as far as I’m concerned is the fact that Child Benefit is the one state benefit that has nearly always gone to the mother, or at least it has since 1945, when Eleanor Rathbone’s amendment to the Family Allowances Bill overturned the then Government’s proposal to have Family Allowance paid to the father:

“For moral and economic reasons this would, Rathbone believed, give mothers security and rights, as well as providing better chance of the money being used for the purpose it was intended: the welfare of children. This ‘child benefit’ payment was universal and paid into the purse. Rathbone knew that mothers could be vulnerable and less able to cope with changes in circumstance; she was also aware that payment direct to mothers made a statement about women’s equal status.”

It could of course be argued that Child Benefit as it currently stands is sexist, in that by giving mothers the payment it helps feed the notion that women are somehow more caring and nurturing than men, and in an ideal world I would be more than happy to argue that men are just as capable of fulfilling that role as women therefore both parents should get the benefit and so on and so forth. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, we are not in some post-patriarchal post-feminist sodding nirvana. The reality is that women do still bear the brunt of caring responsibilities, that women are still the ones most likely to take on the role of primary carer, and that mothers are still the ones who tend to do the shopping and cooking for their kids.

And it’s also still the case that women are the main victims of domestic violence, and that domestic violence cuts across all classes and income brackets. Rich women get beaten by their husbands too, and so do women who are married to men who pay 40% of their wages back to the taxman.

Speak to anyone who works in a domestic violence shelter, and they will tell you that often-times Child Benefit is the only source of income a woman and her children escaping from a violent partner and father will have. Speak to anyone who works in the violence against women sector and they will tell you all about how some men use money as a way to exert power and control in a relationship; how many women are denied access to the family finances, and how Child Benefit is often the only money they ever get to see.

Child Benefit is a fucking life-line for some women, and yet this government wants to take it away from them.

Others have already pointed out the discrepancy in Osborne’s proposals that will see a family with one person earning £44,000 a year losing their Child Benefit while a family with two people earning £43,000 each a year will get to keep theirs, but so far I’ve seen little about how, once again, this ConDem Government is proposing cuts that will have a disproportionate impact on women.

The Fawcett Society has called for a judicial review of this year’s budget, arguing that “the government should have assessed whether its budget proposals would increase or reduce inequality between women and men.” I firmly believe that that legal challenge should now be extended, and that the axing of Child Benefit for higher earners should be assessed according to the same criteria. Because an attack on Child Benefit is an attack on women, it really is as simple as that.

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