Are universal benefits Christian?

Or are they a Biblical concept- perhaps? It seems to me that the focus of the Bible’s teaching is on the redistribution of wealth (loaded term, I know) to those unable to provide for themselves. Hence the constant cry of the prophets to the Israelite nation to protect the widow, the orphan & the alien. Without the structural safety net of a welfare state, the law enforced the concept of provision for its poorest members through practical actions (eg the law of gleaning). In the New Testament, with its rather different governmental setup, these principles were retained with Jesus attacking the money-changers-on-the-make in the temple courts and with the newly-born church setting up a tier of service providers for the discriminated-against widows in Acts. All of this leads me to the conclusion that there is nothing sacrosanct about universal benefits. I don’t think those of us earning over £42K will suddenly stop having children because we can no longer afford them, should the much-discussed changes to that benefit become realised in 2013. The major problem though seems to be the apparent injustice of the working couple each earning £40K still gaining from a benefit that those with one earner over the threshold will be denied. So, a question: If we accept the premise that universality is unnecessary, is our contention that we are willing to give up our benefit provided there is a way for the double earners to do so as well or is this a smokescreen for saying we’ve always had it and we want to hold onto it, whatever the state of our public finances? If it’s the former we are supporting the benefits of those unable to provide for themselves by taking an extra cut. If it’s the latter then we could be cutting a hole in the safety net of the disadvantaged.


3 thoughts on “Are universal benefits Christian?

  1. Presumably there is some historical reason why family allowance was created as a universal benefit and not a means tested one? It is not a recent phenomena to have wealthy individuals in society. Perhaps before any change we should at least look at the reason there? Perhaps a responsible (if naive) response is to offer an opt out option on child benefit, rather than go for a top down solution (this government may not have changed its spots!). This would perhaps be something that included a recommendation that people whose accrued disposable wealth exceeded (say) £500,000 and/or whose combined income of (say) £60k would be usually expected to tick the box. Undoubtly there is something here about fairness (the rich man in his castle is untouched, as is the double earners just under the threshold). There are those (my friend the police seargent) whose earnings are fractionally over the HRT bracket, who feels that a pay cut would be to his advantage. There are others whose income varies from year to year sometimes HRT sometimes not. An interesting example of someone affected in the Saturday Guardian – worth a read. It is concerning that at the conference they went from penalising some better off working families with children, to mildly rewarding all those who are married and then attacks on large (benefit supported) families and the dots appear to join up to a trend which is probably one that CARE and others should actually be very concerned about (even if it is more incompetence than intent). Presumably the step of a small increase to the HRT threshold and a small IHT increase which would have continued to provide for all children would have gone against their ‘principles’ even more than this? It would at least have made it clear that the commitment is to all children which the dots above don’t do. Alternatively remove the allowance altogether and replace it with another means tested benefit!!

    1. Ian- I’ve just come across a passage in David Willetts’ excellent book The Pinch that explains the rise of the family allowance ‘In France and Britain fear of depopulation led to new proposals for supporting families, the origins of family allowances (which later became child benefit)’ p36 This of course happened after low population growth before the Second World War and fears that the war would perpetuate this. Of course, exactly the reverse occurred with the sustained boom of 1945-1965. So, if we accepted this premise for its continuance, it would only need bolstering during a time of low population growth- which is not true of today. But there are other relevant factors, too.

      1. I take your point but if we do see this as a control or reward to change peoples procreation habits, I guess there may be merit in examining if the benefit affects all communities equally. My understanding is that there are differences in terms of population growth between the historic indigenous community and the new migrant communities. With the possible impact on stricter migration one might find that our population size is more critical than overall figures suggest. Particularly in the context of the baby boomer ageing population.

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