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‘Front-loaded’ child benefit questioned in Lords

15 July 2022

Bishop of Durham expresses ‘deep concerns’ about proposals

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THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has expressed “quite deep concerns” about a Bill that would allow recipients of child benefit to opt for a higher rate when their child was younger, in return for a lower rate later.

Bishop Butler agreed that children and their carers should be supported in their early years, when their most important development happened and when the impact of a happy and healthy life, or the long-term harm of adverse childhood experiences, could be overlooked.

But he questioned the suggestion that it would allow a parent to stay at home rather than be pressured back into work. The likely amount, he said, would not be enough to allow them to stay at home. Speaking during a debate in the House of Lords on the Front-loaded Child Benefit Bill, he said the enhanced payments proposed should not be subject to the benefit cap.

He also wondered whether there was sufficient infrastructure, or political will, to support the engagement with services required in the Bill to receive the extra payment. “We need to be careful that we are giving people sufficient dignity and support, and any conditionality element of a front-loaded child benefit would need to be properly resourced with support for children and their families.” Also, he feared that it would over-complicate child benefit, which had the advantage of being easy to understand and administer.

“I would prefer to see increased support for all children in their early years, including more adequate provision for child care and its costs,” he said. “I will want to ensure that it is not to be misused unhelpfully for the support of children throughout their childhood; so significant amendments would be required.”

Lord Farmer, the Conservative peer who introduced the private Bill, pointed out that, in later years, the parents could have returned to work, and so be earning more money, and might not have the same stresses as in the first three years of parenthood.

The proposal, he said, was also “a gift” to the Government, which at present was unable to alter child benefit in any way. “Here is a lever that any government, of either party, can use in future years, when it is on the political radar screen that primary care in those early years is so important that parents need more money then rather than later.”

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