Why does the well meaning and ‘do-gooding’ Children’s Society irritate me so much?
What is there not to love about a charity that says it has children’s interests at heart and fights childhood poverty, harm and neglect? How could I not be sympathetic?
Every so often their emails – more often about their ‘policy work’ and ‘campaigning’ than about their ‘direct action’ with children (whatever that means) – drop into my inbox.
The latest arrived yesterday. It was sent to pour cold water over George Osborne’s Budget and to make him out as heartless and uncaring. He may be, but not for the reasons they gave.
You would think that a charity with its sunday school and Church of England origins, a Bishop (Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro) as its chairman and a concern for social justice, might castigate the Chancellor for blanking out marriage in his Budget.
Marriage, after all, is pre-eminently a social justice issue. Though the better off can still afford it (just) and ‘do it’ to the advantage and well-being of their children (if not to their own pockets) the poor can’t. The marriage divide has widened as child poverty has grown. The more exclusively benefit dependent the poorest are, the less they are likely to marry. They know they they will significantly better off living apart on benefits than together married. Nor is there a cultural imperative to do otherwise. Responsible fathers (or mothers for that matter) are not a requirement in Benefit Land.
They are not one in Children’s Society Land either, apparently. The great and the good of this charity simply do not see this as a factor in the disadvantage and plight of the 3.7 million children they tell us are ‘living in poverty’. The Society appears to be studiously neutral about the ‘family formations’ these children hail from, or their social, psychological and economic viability.
It also seems that the sociological fact that the marital status of ‘poor’ children’s parents is a stronger predictor of their outcomes by far than their ‘education’ or ‘early intervention’ is irrelevant to their concerns.
Now I can appreciate that the Society may believe that it is working with children for whom a marriage campaign might seem hurtful. They may also think that all they would be doing would be closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. But they would be wrong on both counts. It is arrogant and prejudiced indeed to assume that poor young people do not want, aspire to or dream of the marriage and stability that was absent from their own precarious childhoods.
The Society also needs to understand the cost of their moral neutrality for future generations of children. Breaking the pernicious family cycle of poverty requires cultural change – not the ever more state support they demand.
None of this forms even a part of the Children’s Society’s critique of the Budget. What they want is more of that ‘vital government support’ that ‘vulnerable children are missing out on’. By that they are not referring to a reformed family tax and benefits system that rewards responsible behaviour but to ever more state and charitable sticking plasters.
They are concerned that Mr Osborne did not mention CSE – that means child sexual exploitation for those who have not caught up with this latest victim category in the Children’s Society lexicon.
They also expressed their dismay that the Government’s capping of benefits meant that ‘struggling families’, defined as low income ones with two children, will lose “nearly £650 from the uprating cap alone”.
What income? I wondered. If like me you were under the impression income is money received, on a regular basis, for work or through investments, think again. For the Children’s Society, income is handouts too. Another misappropriated word to disguise the truth by sanitising the facts and making out that everyone’s income is the same whether earned or not, conflating benefits with low pay and thereby undermining the moral value of and necessity for work.
All of this added to my irritation. All this hiding of the truth
Finally, it was not so much that Osborne would be spending £2.5 billion over the next two years on increasing tax allowances they righteously deplored; but that he was ‘giving’ a tax break without matching it by a concomitant rise in benefits “to protect the most vulnerable”.
I deplore it for a quite different reason – for adding to the tax penalty that couples with one earner and another at home caring for the children already suffer. I deplore his penalising of people’s right to make responsible decisions about their own family lives.
In fact, I deplore our whole toxic family tax and benefits system for the unprecedented levels of lone parent,mainly fatherless, families it has spawned. This is unique to Britain and not inevitable as can be seen from other OECD countries that properly recognise the married family’s responsibility for children in their tax systems.
I also deplore the Children’s Society and the bleeding heart bishops they work with for failing to face up to a basic set of equations: fewer people marrying equals more family breakdown; more family breakdown equals more lone parent families (mainly mother led and fatherless); more lone parent families equals more vulnerable and unprotected children; more vulnerable children equals more children being taken into the care system; more children in care equals more exploitation of all sorts, sex included.
Worse still, the Society’s refusal to acknowledge all this perpetuates the problem.
A third of the Children’s Society annual income of £46 million comes from the Government. It would uncharitable but not entirely incorrect to say that with this help it thrives on the disadvantage it purports to want to end.
How much more impressive would it be if it had the courage to face the truth about children’s real needs and campaign against the parental behaviour that puts their children so at risk, instead of playing a game of blame and take from the State.