I used to be a teacher, once. And one of the things I used to teach was philosophy. Now philosophy is really nothing more than the art of thinking clearly – logically – about a problem.
Admittedly, the problems of philosophy are usually rather tricky: why are we here? what is reality? where does right and wrong come from? But I thought, this morning, I’d invite David Cameron into my classroom to do a little basic logic. Because one of the following statements about today’s child benefit cuts – repeated by government spokesmen and women across the media this morning – is a non sequitur (that’s philosophy for -‘bollocks’, by the way). Now, Mr Cameron. Can you identify which one?
Statement A: child benefit must be cut to help reduce the nation’s deficit;
Statement B: those with broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden;
Statement C: the majority of parents will still receive child benefit.
No, Mr Cameron? Oh do come on! Anyone else, then? Anyone?
Let’s go through them one by one shall we? Statement A is undoubtedly true, if – as this government has – you decide to cut public spending as your route to deficit reduction. (Yes, Balls, we know: other routes may be available. Now, put down that ocarina!)
Now, B. Again, true. We’d expect those who can afford to to pay more, wouldn’t we everybody? Yes, sir.
And statement C. That seems pretty watertight, too, doesn’t it? It’s undoubtedly true that a mere 15% of those claiming child benefit at midnight last night will no longer be doing so today.
So, where’s the problem?
Well, let’s look at that last statement again, shall we? Of that 15% there will undoubtedly by a tiny proportion of very wealthy individuals who will barely notice a missing trifle from their income stream and will merrily toss to their accountant the necessary self-assessment form. They’ve got broad shoulders, as you say. They should pay.
But so should more than a few of the 85% remaining recipients of child benefit, shouldn’t they? Because their household income combined is in some cases considerably more than that of the ‘broad shoulder’ brigade, isn’t it Mr Cameron? Oh do keep up!
Which means, in essence, that there will be those among the losers this morning whose shoulders are a good deal narrower than some, perhaps many, of the majority – sitting pretty with a joint income potentially of up to £90,000, who are still receiving child benefit. Child benefit that you, Mr C – yes you too, Osborne (oh do put your hand down!) – said you needed to help reduce the deficit.
Yes, not very bright of you, is it Cameron? What school did you say you’d been to before coming here? Eton, was it? And how much did your father spend on that, I wonder? Lets see shall we, six years between the ages of thirteen and eighteen at, what, thirty grand a year? That’s a pair of very broad shoulders, isn’t it David?