[Read online at The Times here (£)]
Government must not use child benefit as a way of breaking the last vestiges of fondness for the welfare state
Hugo Rifkind’s argument (“Don’t tax me just to give me my money back”, Opinion, Jan 8) against better-off people receiving universal benefits is well-made, but its chief flaw is that its logic also applies to any service provided by the State (except, perhaps, the Armed Forces and security forces). Services such as the NHS or schools are a form of “universal benefit” and while it is compelling to argue that scarce resources ought be targeted only at those who genuinely need them, the eventual consequence might be to make private insurance and education the norm rather than the exception, with State provision becoming little more than a safety net for the poor.
Many on the Right would deny such an intent (note Cameron’s desperation to be seen as a defender of the NHS). However, we must guard against the possibility of a hidden agenda in government to use issues such as child benefit as way of breaking the last vestiges of fondness for the welfare state among the middle classes, thereby eroding state provision of vital services for the bulk of the population. Such an outcome would be a dystopia and would see a government of two parties which failed to win an outright majority, eradicating more than a century of progress towards a more civilised society made by governments that won the genuine support of the people.