Five questions answered on the new child benefit cuts taking effect today

Families earning over a certain amount will today lose their child benefit. We answer five questions on the changes to the UK child benefit system.

How much do you have to be earning to lose your child benefit?

Under the new legislation families with one parent earning more than £50,000 will lose part of their child benefit. If one parent earns more than £60,000 their child benefit will be withdrawn altogether.

What these families will actually be losing is £20.30 a week paid for the first child and £13.40 a week for every child after that until the age of 16 or 18, if they are still full time education, in some cases this may continue until the child is 20.

How much does the government hope to save with this new benefit scheme?

Approximately £1.5bn a year, which will be used to help reduce the deficit.

What are critics of the changes saying?

Critics have pointed out that two parents earning £49,000 a year will keep their benefit, while a family with one parent working who earns £51,000 will lose their benefit even though jointly they have a smaller household income.

They also point out that those who never opted out of child benefit by the deadline will now have to fill out a self assessment tax form creating complexity in the system.

If someone or their partner keeps claiming child benefit when now not entitled to it the money will have to be clawed back by High Income Child Benefit Charge run by the HMRC after the recipient declares it in a self assessment tax form.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that 500,000 extra people might have to fill in these forms as a result of the change.

How many people will be affected by the cuts?

It is estimated that more than a million will be affected by the changes with the IFS estimating people could lose about £1,300 a year.

What has the treasury said?

A Treasury spokesman told the BBC: "Withdrawing child benefit on the basis of the combined family income would require intrusive means-testing of all eight million households getting child benefit. The way we are doing it is simpler for the vast majority of families."

A baby, about to lose its benefits. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.