Practice has proved to be a masterpiece of illogicality

COMMENT: Our public services can only take so much

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One of my grandfathers – continually exasperated by the intransigence of one of my grandmothers – once exclaimed: ‘The first time she thinks I’m right, I’ll probably be wrong!’

It was a complicated concept for a young brain to absorb at the time, but now, some 50 years later, his words spring to mind whenever the coalition launches its latest initiative.

After two-and-a-half years of ham-fisted compromise and a dizzyingly large number of U-turns, the Conservatives and Lib Dems continue to get it almost right, while finally managing to get it badly wrong.

Take the latest shambles over child benefit. The theory of removing such payments from the better-off had much to commend it, but the practice has proved to be a masterpiece of illogicality.

One presumes a number of great minds applied themselves to the development of this policy.

If so, one is entitled to ask why they all believed that removing the benefit from families in which one partner earned £60,000 a year was fair, while removing it from families in which each partner earned £59,000 a year was not?

It is so manifestly absurd, so grotesquely unreasonable, that a simpleton would have been bound to point it out.

Yet we are asked to believe that the massed intellects of two political parties, and their battalions of civil servants, failed to spot the essential injustice of this proposition.

The truth, I suspect, is rather different. The Conservatives in general, and Cameron in particular, have consistently banged on about the family. The Lib Dems, on the other hand, have made it clear the future wellbeing of the nuclear unit is of little concern to them.

So what we have here is yet another squalid compromise – and Cameron emerges from it once again looking contrary and inconsistent.

Though he penalises stay-at-home partners with this legislation, he rightly intends to reward the traditional housewives of yesteryear by making sure those who fulfilled this role get the same basic pension as their husbands in future.

He almost got it right – then got it wrong again.

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