Since the election of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in May the political debate has centred around their determination to reduce the deficit – and to do so in the main by cutting what George Osbourne describes as “wasteful spending“. Of course, the collective left are having a field day, with multiple campaigns against the cuts though Labour (if you still recognise them as a party of the left) recognise the need for some cuts. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle (which means in this post I’m going to piss off both left and right and lose any friends I’ve made in the last few weeks).

The reason I’m writing this post is my reaction to this piece by Caron. Basically, she has reacted rather angrily to the way the Daily Mail has covered this story. Granted, it doesn’t really take much to get angry at a Daily Mail article, but I’m not as annoyed by it as Caron is. Indeed, I’m more annoyed at the subject of the article.

As background (and there may well be more to this story than has been made public – especially since it is a Daily Mail story!) the couple in question have recently had twins (born early September) which brings their family to six children. Neither parent works and they live in a small council house – and have “demanded” to use the Daily Mail’s terminology a larger (council) home. Caron argues – not entirely unjustifiably – that the Mail should be emphasising the need for better and more affordable housing rather than criticising them for not working and naming their children after celebrities. I’m not immune to this at all.

But I do think we need a little perspective as well – and this is where the “cuts” debate above comes into play. Having debated with Caron on the issue, its clear that she thinks if we don’t help the children in this situation we are actively punishing them for their parents’ choices. My argument was and is that there is a distinction to be made between actively providing support (and thereby helping the children) and withholding support (which would not help them but equally we wouldn’t actively be hurting them). Absolutely, it isn’t the kids fault their parents are irresponsible. But it also isn’t the taxpayers’ responsibility to play parent in their place. Obviously, its a tough situation, and I have sympathy with them. But they made choices to have 6 children knowing well they could not afford them.

Malc's Cat (cute picture so the left doesn't hate him)

As a young, recently-wed, (unfunded!) postgrad I well understand the pressure we’re under to try to buy a property. But there’s no way I could afford it at the moment. So I rent. And I have done for three years. And the flat is one bed and a boxroom – its not like I’m a rich brat living in a four-bed mansion here. And because I’m still a student, we cut back – we don’t do all the things we’d like to do, we buy only the shopping we need and cut out the luxuries. We did, however, get a cat. After a lot of considering whether we could afford it, eventually we decided we could. Granted, a cat is not as costly as a baby (or 6) but that’s not really the point. We realise our limits and have made decisions based on them. In short, I like to think we’ve been responsible.

Now, obviously my situation is different – and perhaps I’ve been given better opportunities than the parents (and definitely the children) in the case highlighted above.  I’m not immune to that argument.  All I’m saying is that 6 kids when you don’t have a job just isn’t responsible. And I’m just not convinced that the state should pick up the slack – I wouldn’t expect them to if it was me.

Maybe it is unfair to pick on this family (especially the way the Daily Mail has). But maybe its time for some tough love. Let’s support these people, but do it in a way that isn’t simply a hand-out for people who don’t have a job but still think they can support a family of six because the government will pay for them. Let’s help them make the right choices, be more responsible with their decision-making (and family planning!) and let’s not just give them state handouts when they want a bigger house.

For me, when you hear people moaning about folk scrounging off benefits when “I’m out working my fingers to the bone” this is why. It’s why people are apathetic about politics and disengaged with politicians. Parties continually go into elections with pledges to “get Britain working”, to get people off benefits and into jobs, and yet when it comes to it, the jobs just aren’t there.

I couldn’t agree more with what Simon Heffer says here: “welfare should be a safety net, and not a way of life.” In the meantime, let’s not vilify as “right-wing” those who have recognised this and are trying to change it.  Otherwise we’ll be forever stuck with a system which seems to suggest that if you want a bigger house just have six kids and the government will pay for it.