Plans being considered by the Conservatives to cap child benefit payments picks on children and “punishes children”, says a leading children’s charity.
The Conservatives are considering limiting child benefit payments to no more than three children, the BBC reports.
James Browne from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the move would save an estimated £300 million a year, but added it could take 18 years before any savings are realised.
He added the policy would not get the Tories “that far” in achieving their general election pledge of cutting welfare spending by £12 billion.
Child benefit pays £20.50 a week for the first child, falling to £13.55 for any subsequent children.
The benefit is paid to everyone who has children. However, changes introduced by the Government in January 2013 mean higher earners have to pay more tax if they want to continue receiving it.
Tory MP Dominic Raab said the child benefit cap was only “under consideration” and not purely about saving money.
He told the BBC: “There is a much broader point than just the financial bean counting.
“It’s the kind of welfare system we want – do we want a social safety net or are we saying that welfare is somehow a lifestyle choice?
“And I think we do want the welfare system to send a message about personal responsibility, and yes that includes parents saving and taking some responsibility for the size of their family, making sure it’s according to their means.”
The Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Alison Garnham responded furiously:
“It’s astonishing that just as IFS reports show families have been hammered hardest by austerity cuts over this Parliament that plans that will inevitably impoverish even more children in the next Parliament are being discussed.
“The Government itself is absolutely clear that 99% of money given to parents in child benefit is money that does end up being spent on meeting the needs of children.
“Taking away child benefit from families in this way would pick on children and punish siblings for circumstances beyond their control.
“Child Benefit has already lost 14% of its value over this Parliament, exposing working and non-working families to even greater hardship.
“Our Cost of a Child report last year showed child benefit covered 19% of the extra costs of meeting the basic needs of a child – it’s an amount that working and non-working families would struggle to do without.”
Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, accused the Conservatives of picking on children.
“I don’t think you have a child because you’re going to get an extra… £13.55 a week”, she said.
“Only one in seven families have three or more children – it’s a small number – so why pick on them?”
Figures available on the CPAG website, show there are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK – equivalent to 27% of all children.
Child poverty costs society at least £29 billion a year and is predicted to rise by more than 600,000 by 2015/15.
Some experts and charities warn that without urgent action to reduce child poverty, it could reach a shocking 4.7 million by 2020.