See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.” Zygmunt Bauman.
Every Child Matters was Labour’s comprehensive and effective child welfare and protection policy that the Conservatives scrapped the day after they took office in 2010. The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the phrase “helping children achieve more”. This reflects a fundmental change of emphasis from a rights-based society, for which both government and citizen share responsibility, to one where the individual is held solely responsible for their circumstances, regardless of structural conditions and the impact of political policies.
What was a “Children’s Plan” under the last Labour government is now a “free market education plan”, marking the Conservatives shift from free schools to “for profit” schools.
The price of having more children than the state deems acceptable
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics released today show that more than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”.
The joint analysis conducted by the DWP and HMRC shows that from 6 April 2017, just under 865,000 households with a third or subsequent child were claiming child tax credits or Universal Credit. Of these, DWP and HMRC claim that 70,620 reported a third or subsequent child after 6 April 2017, and that consequently they weren’t receiving benefit support for at least one child. Around 38% of those families affected were lone parents – 26,800 of them in total. A court ruling in June 2017 deemed the policy as discriminatory towards lone parents with children under two.
The two-child policy means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for those children. Iain Duncan Smith has said that the draconian policy has been designed to “incentivise behavioural change”, reflecting the government’s keen embrace of wonk behavioural economics in order to prop up a failing neoliberal administration.
Presumably Duncan Smith doesn’t think that people on low incomes who need social security support should have children. However, 59% of those families affected by the cruel an uncivilised imposed cut in their low income are in work. Financially punishing them for having a child isn’t going to change the profiteering behaviours of the draconian government, exploitative employers or the precarious conditions of the labour market. These are events and circumstances beyond the control of families and their children.
Many people have children when they are relatively affluent, and may then fall on hard times through no fault of their own. It’s hardly “fair” to punish people for the structural conditions that are largely shaped through government policies based on neoliberal economics. However, Duncan Smith claimed, nonetheless, that the policy would force claimants to make the “same life choices as families not on benefits, and ‘incentivise’ them [imported US managementspeak, which means ‘to motivate’] to seek work or increase their hours.”
The Conservatives have seemingly overlooked the fact that when people struggle to meet their basic needs, they are rather less likely to be able to improve their socio-economic situation, since necessity rather than choice becomes their key motivation. Punishing people who have little income by taking away even more cannot possibly help them to improve their situation. It can only serve to inflict further suffering and distress.
The statistics also showed that 190 women were “exempted” from the eugenic policy, which the government has insisted is “working” and had been “delivered compassionately,” after they were forced to prove to officials their third child was conceived as a result of rape. The women have had to disclose rape in order to claim benefits under the government’s two-child benefit policy, according to the official DWP stats released today. That’s 190 women forced to disclose being sexually assaulted just to feed their children.
The so-called rape clause has been widely condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”.
A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.”
Adding ludicrously: “We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.” George Orwell’s dystopian novel became a government handbook of citizen “behavioural change”.
The rollout of universal credit will increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.
Personal decision-making and citizen autonomy is increasingly reduced as neoliberal governments see human behaviours as a calculated investment for future economic returns. Now, having a child if you happen to be relatively poor invites the same outraged response from the right as those we saw leading up to the welfare ‘reforms’ regarding the very idea of people on welfare support owning flat screen TVs and Iphones.
Apparently, people struggling to get by should do without anything that would make their life a little more bearable. You can only have public and political sympathy and support if you lead the most wretched life. Perish the thought that you may have bought your TV during better times, when you had a job that paid enough to live on. Or decided to have a child.
However, it is profoundly cruel and dehumanising to regard children as a commodity. Economic ‘efficiency’ and the ‘burden on the tax payer’ are excuses being used to justify withholding public funds for fundamental human necessities, for dismantling welfare and other social safety nets.
There is no discrete class of tax payers; everyone pays tax, including those who need social security provision.
Campaigners have said that the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.
In April this year, 60 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders condemned the policy, arguing it would lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.
Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”
She went on to say:
“Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit. Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.
“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”
Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.” (See The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies.)
The curtailment of benefits for mothers and chilren is a form of negative eugenics, as is using financial ‘incentives’ to ‘nudge’ women claiming welfare support to use contraception.
Frederick Osborn defined eugenics as a philosophy with implications for social order. The Conservatives see eugenics as a political concern for governance. The view arises from a focus on neoliberalism and particularly, with competitive individualism. It is linked with the Conservatives’ views concerning economic productivity, and managing resources and wealth. The Conservatives believe that poverty arises because of ‘faulty’ perceptions, cognitions and behaviours of poor people. The two-child policy is aimed at maintaining the socio-economic order. Modern eugenics is market-based and austerity driven.
Eugenics rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. However the UK government is more concerned with economic “fitness”. The doctrine challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatisation.
Eric Hobsbawm (1996) among others has pointed out in The Age of Capital 1848-1875, mounting concentrations of wealth were coupled with the massive displacement of populations and socio-economic disruption on a previously unimaginable scale. At the core of this process of destructive change is the commodification process, which has transformed human needs into marketable goods.
As the welfare state and social protection systems are being dismantled, neoliberal governments have called forth a new social imaginary of ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ people. The ‘dysfunctional’ are simply those that haven’t managed to any accumulate wealth – which is the majority of us. The deployment of terms such as ‘deserving’, ’empowerment’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in policy discourses and the way these are being used to pathologise service users and to reconstruct the relationship between the state and citizens indicates an authoritarian government that seems determined to micromanage the psychology, self perceptions and characters of those it deems ‘dysfunctional’.
This idea, which also underpins the pseudoscientific discipline of behavioural economics is one way of justifying huge wealth inequality and maintain the status quo. It also serves to create a utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic to every corner of society. As sociologist Loïc Wacquant said, neoliberalism represents an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.”
Childrens’ worth, for the Conservatives, may be counted out in pounds and pence or not at all.
The Conservatives believe it is necessary to govern through a particular register, that of the economy. The government offers economic ‘opportunities’ for only the ‘right kind’ of people. As a neoliberal form of governmentality, we are witnessing the construction of a new meritocratic ‘common-sense’ in which the rule of the ‘brightest and best’, those with the highest level of cognitve functioning, is presented simply as a form of rational economic ‘natural selection’. The two-child policy reflects this view of a marketised ‘natural selection’ mechanism.
A major criticism of eugenic policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity,
The political restriction of support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming social security year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are ‘structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive ‘deficits’.
The Conservatives have always held an elitist view of humanity – wealthy people are seen as worthy, noble and moral, and poorer people are regarded as biologically-driven, impulsive and crassly sexualised. This set of prejudices justifies a harsh set of social policies that aims to abolish government assistance to the ‘undeserving’ poor, while preserving and enhancing the privileges accorded to their ‘deserving’ betters.
These ideas can be traced back in part to an 18th-century English clergyman—and Thomas Robert Malthus, who was one of the founders of classical economics. Malthus wanted an end to poor relief and advocated exposing unemployed people to the harsh disciplines of the market.
Malthus maintained that despite a ‘generous’ welfare system, poverty in England kept increasing. He also believed that welfare created ‘peverse incentives’ – Conservatives echo these claims that support to unemployed citizens always creates more of the poverty it aims to alleviate. From this view, receiving ‘unearned’ resources ‘incentivises’ unemployed people not to seek work, thus perpetuating their own condition.
Central to Malthus’s ‘scarcity of resources thesis’ (paralleled with the Conservatives’ austerity programme an ‘deficit reduction’) is the idea that hunger and deprivation serves to discipline the unemployed people to seek work and control childbirth. Apparently, cruelty is the key to prosperity.
The Conservatives are contemporary Malthusians, who endorse removing benefits as a necessity to compel citizens to work, and when in work, to work even harder, regardless of whether their children suffer in the punitive process of imposed deprivation.
Malthus believed that poor people procreate recklessly, whereas wealthy people excercise ‘moral restraint’. The Conservatives’ draconian social policies also depend on the endorsement of divisive cultural prejudices and dehumanising views of poor and vulnerable citizens.
The two-child policy is an indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist ideology and administrative agenda, designed to exercise control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of ‘faulty’ individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.
Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without. This reveals the government’s bleak and dystopic view of a society where financial outcomes override all other considerations, including human lives.
Conservatives’ two-child policy violates human rights
I wrote in 2015 about some of the implications of the two-child policy. Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.
If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits? It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.
And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to.
Restriction on welfare support for children will inevitably directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, it openly discriminates against the children of larger families .
People who are in favour of eugenic policies believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. And taking public funds from public services.
Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable”, regardless of the reason, and which formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights, is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, states:
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
An assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act.
The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.
Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.
England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:
“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”
It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.
The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.
3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.
States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.
2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2us for benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.
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