Let’s hear it for universal benefits

Really enjoyed today’s article from John Harris in the Guardian putting the case for universal benefits.

It’s something I feel quite strongly about too which is why the recent changes to child benefit have irked me quite a bit. I’ve never said they were anything like as awful as some if the other changes hitting the very poorest. But I think there is a lot to be said for some benefits being universally available and think child benefit should remain so.

My main reason for this is one often cited by the left, that universal benefits bind in the middle class to the benefits system. Can’t disagree with that. But it also recognises the additional costs that everyone faces when having a child, or being disabled (eg mobility allowances) or being older (eg winter fuel). And even if someone has a good income then this recognition is still due I think. In a progressive tax system that wealthier individual has probably paid the cost of the benefit several times over in their tax bill in any case.

Another good reason for supporting universal benefits is the reduced administrative cost. Not to mention the increased take up by people across the income spectrum when things aren’t means tested.

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