“Behavioural Changes”

Will a future King George become the first royal to draw additional funds from the UK exchequor? He will, if he sends his children to state schools and relies primarily on the NHS for medical care. For years now, a careful sovereign has cost the taxpayer less than the price of a cup of coffee. Per year. Serious value for money if only for their entertainment as long-running soap opera. Bargain basement when their other, less obvious, merits are included in the bill.

Any alternative head of state would cost eye-wateringly more bucks, and for the wrong sort of bang.

But one fine day, if politicians will have seized the nettle of vested interests inimical to real education, the improved quality of our state schools could relegate to history-lessons most private school parents’ enslavement to school fees.

Ian Duncan Smith’s phrase ” behavioural changes” will have opened a can of ferocious worms today. He should not be forced to recant his words. Is it really taboo in today’s political settlement to discuss the idea that parents fund from their scanty pockets any children they choose to produce after their first two?

( See this article from The Telegraph by Julia Hartley Brewer)

The problem is that human beings are not dogs. (The UK has not yet dared to impose restrictions on dog-ownership based on ability to pay, let alone their suitability, rich or poor, as pet-carers. However controversially, we should long ago have introduced licences as a first step towards improving animal welfare). But humans’ responsibility for their “sacrosanct” right to reproduce themselves will prove a no-go subject for debate, however sensitive. The premise that the UK citizen can expect the state ( tax-payers) to support up to two offspring with their health and education and, to varying extents, their food, clothing and maybe housing; BUT that producing any further children becomes a decision each parent weighs more carefully, would describe an unthinkable leap of political courage. To even look squarely at the secretary of state’s phrase “behavioural changes” is not a stance we are in any condition to stomach without reactive moral dyspepsias. Perhaps the time has come to develop a new language with which we can explore a more brightly lit moral landscape from which even the timid will not flinch. If for nothing else, a society in rapid flux will have to admire the tough honest speak of Duncan Smith, a British descendent of a Samurai warrior.

Of course there will never be any punitive proposal to withold free education and NHS services from any child. Rightly, child welfare is a sacred bedrock cementing our society. Merely IDS suggests that the primary parent will not receive a child-benefit sum (currently less than £15 per week per child) for more than the first two. This gentle nudge towards rationing family size is unlikely to deliver “behavioural changes”. As ever, anxious parents will continue to work to improve their children’s education until teaching standards are harmonised upwards.

Prince George, when king, will probably continue to cost us each around 75p p.a.

The secretary of state for work and pensions stands at the foothills of an ideal welfare state based on appreciation of personal responsibility. Big ideas. Big hills.

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