Child benefit cut will hit women hardest

The cuts will create gender inequality in state pension provision

The cuts will create gender inequality in state pension provision

George Osborne's proposal to scrap universal child benefit is yet another example of how the spending cuts will hit women disproportionately hard.

As Sunder Katwala at Next Left and others have pointed out already today, the cuts to child benefit will have worrying ramifications for women's state pension entitlement. Here's a bit more detail about what it will mean.

There is currently special provision in the state pension system for carers who aren't in formal employment, and it is closely linked to the benefit system. Until 6 April 2010, those with caring responsibilities were entitled to something called Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP), which could reduce the number of qualifying years of national insurance contributions for carers not in work, protecting their right to a full state pension. It has since been replaced by a new credit system, but the intention is the same: to see that those who don't make national insurance contributions because of caring responsibilities don't lose out on their state pension entitlement.

The criteria for receiving the new "carer's credit" is unambiguous: you are eligible if you receive "Child Benefit for a child under 12 years of age", are a foster carer, or care for a disabled person for at least 20 hours a week.

While the child benefit cut will, in practice, only affect those who are already relatively comfortably off, it is yet another example of how the cuts will have a greater impact on women than men. Women who stay at home to care for children while a partner earning more than £44,000 supports the family will lose their entitlement to the carer's credit, and thus the full value of their state pension.

This inequality, created by the cuts announced by Osborne today, is in addition to the absurdity (already highlighted by my colleague George Eaton this morning) that the cuts will leave households with a single earner bringing home more than £44,000 without child benefit, while double-income families where neither earner makes more than £43,000 will continue to receive child benefit.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.