This Budget is about ideology as much as fiscal responsibility

It was Maggie Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren. Now this government will take money from

The Budget showed that, for the Conservatives, the problem facing the country is one of government rather than of the market. The Tories believe that the problem lies with the state, the size of which should be reduced, and not with the banks which collapsed.

That much is clear from how the burden of the Budget will fall: of the £40bn additional fiscal tightening being proposed, it looks as though £13bn will be achieved by raising VAT and £11bn by an attack on welfare. In contrast, £2bn is being raised by the banking levy. This reveals the priorities of this Conservative-led coalition.

The burden of the changes introduced will fall particularly heavily on the poorest and on working people more generally. The Chancellor said that he had a choice between raising income tax or VAT. About £1 of every £7 that poor people spend goes on VAT, while for the rich, the figure is about £1 in every £25. It is highly regressive and that it was increased reflects the right-wing agenda being elaborated by this government.

People have reason to fear other elements of the Budget. It was Margaret Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren. Now this government will take money from poorer mothers.

According to the TUC, the announcements made show that poorer mothers will lose about £1,200 a year. This may not affect the 22 millionaires sitting around the cabinet, but it can make a difference to many children and families. Whatever my differences with them, I do not believe people joined the Liberal Democrat party to attack poorer mothers, but that is what this Budget does.

It would not be my priority at this time to go for further fiscal tightening, given the fragility of the economy and the lack of demand elsewhere in the world. This view has been expressed by others, including President Barack Obama in his letter to the G20. The chief economist at KPMG, Andrew Smith, has described the Budget as a "kill or cure" plan, and went on to say:

The aim is to eliminate the structural deficit over this parliament, but it risks choking off the recovery. There is no guarantee that private demand will rebound just because the government retrenches.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, asked how hard it could be to understand that governments can save economies rather than destroy them. Yet, as he said: "politicians seem determined to do the reverse. They're eager to short-change the economy when it needs help."

We are taking a huge risk with the future of our economy. Two million private-sector employees work for companies that are dependent on government contracts. Further damage will inevitably be done to the private sector by cuts aimed at the public sector.

When we look at the performance of the private sector, we see that it, rather than the public sector, has brought about the reduction in GDP, especially in investment. People may not like to use the word, but if there is a strike going on at the moment: an investment strike in the private sector. We can understand why it happened, but nonetheless, £6 of every £10 of the reduction in GDP is down to the decline in private-sector investment.

It is not clear to me how cuts now will suddenly lead to growth in private-sector investment. Furthermore, the Budget shows a decline in public-sector investment from £47bn in 2008-2009 to £21bn by 2014.

The underlying economic philosophy of the Budget is that, by reducing the state, the private sector will flourish. The reverse is true, as we know from J M Keynes and from what happened in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Roosevelt's New Deal rebuilt the American infrastructure and economy. The private sector was able to revive through expenditure, not cuts.

The May election gave no legitimacy for the course the government has set. Inevitably, there will be resistance both in parliament and outside. It is for the Labour Party to reflect carefully on how we respond. It will want to react responsibly, but we should place ourselves alongside people and communities who are resisting the cuts.

Jon Trickett is the Labour Party MP for Hemsworth.

Jon Trickett is the shadow minister without portfolio, Labour deputy chair and MP for Hemsworth.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.