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 If one parent earns more than £60,000 their child benefit will be withdrawn altogether.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 Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.