£700m to spend? Some better ideas than a marriage tax allowance

December 3, 2013

Cross-posted from my Huffington Post blog:

£700million to spend? Some ideas which might be better than a marriage tax allowance

This Thursday the Chancellor gives his Autumn Statement. With the economic upturn shaky at best we can expect little in the way of good news and plenty more squeezing of budgets. Except, that is, for one thing. It appears that the Chancellor has £700m to spare on a measure that even its supporters claim won’t any difference. So what’s the truth? Are we in the grip of a near permanent austerity? Or do we have some cash to burn? Things are certainly a little confusing.

And I think we can be forgiven for being a little confused. After all, a marriage tax allowance really doesn’t make much sense. It is not as if it will lead to anyone getting, or staying, married. Most married couples, including those who are both working, don’t have the ‘right kind of marriage’ to qualify as they don’t have a breadwinner and a homemaker. They therefore won’t get anything. And neither will widows, widowers, single parents or cohabiting couples. Only 18% of families with children will benefit from marriage tax breaks.

At Don’t Judge My Family, the campaign against the marriage tax allowance, we don’t believe that Government should be spending public money promoting their ideal ‘fantasy 1950s family‘. In these tough times, the government should be helping people not judging them. So we asked for suggestions for better ideas. How might the Government better use £700m a year to support families, sustain relationships or give children the best start in life? We received hundreds of well thought through and passionate responses and yesterday we launched a report detailing some of these.

So what might be better than a marriage tax allowance? For a start, what about increased access to relationship counselling? Something which might actually help save a struggling relationship. Unlike the proposed marriage tax break which even David Cameron acknowledges won’t stop anyone from getting a divorce.

Alternatively perhaps the Government could cancel its proposed cuts to benefits for widowed parents? It is estimated that 90% of new claimants will be worse off under the new Bereavement Support Payments with those with younger children particularly adversely affected. Many predict this will mean widowed parents having to work full-time instead of spending time with their bereaved children.

Or what about scrapping the Bedroom Tax? Something which is causing stress and misery for hundreds of thousands of individuals and families yet is predicted to save only £470m a year. Far less than the amount the Chancellor has put aside to ‘send a signal’ about marriage.

The Government may believe that sending a signal about marriage is worth £700m a year. But it is not likely that marriage tax breaks will encourage people to get married or stay married. Even if they did, there is no evidence that encouraging people to marry is a useful outcome. Although marriage is often cited as leading to stability and better outcomes, supporters of marriage tax breaks confuse correlation with cause. People with higher educational qualifications and incomes are more likely to marry and it’s those attributes, rather than a marriage certificate, that leads to them being more stable and their children doing better.

We believe that great families come in all shapes and sizes and that the Government’s job is to help families, not judge them. This December we’re showcasing twenty four great ideas, all of which are loads better than a marriage tax allowance, in our Help Don’t Judge advent calendar. Why not take a look and find out how £700m could be better spent supporting families, sustaining relationships or giving children the best start in life.


Anticipating pain

December 1, 2013

Poor Baby has four teeth coming through. Four! This really isn’t much fun for anyone. I can see teeny tiny white bits though in his top gums where they are just about to break through. So hopefully it’s not too long to go now.

Helping him deal with the pain and discomfort is probably quite good practice though. In a few days Baby is due to have an operation. I’ve not mentioned it before but he has an undescended testicle. So later this week we’re off to the hospital for his surgery. It’s routine, from the perspective of the hospital, and he’ll probably be out that day. But from our position it’s anything but routine. He’ll be under general anaesthetic so can’t eat or drink for six hours before hand. Try explaining that to a nine month old! It’s keyhole surgery but it’s still likely he’ll be in a fair bit of pain afterwards. Poor little mite!

Call and response

November 21, 2013

Baby has started to make a variety of vocal sounds and noises. It’s really exciting. He’ll make a ‘ssss’ sound and then laugh when I do one back. Often we’ll have what are almost conversations where we are hissing and smiling at each other. He also makes ‘duh duh’ and ‘buh buh’ sounds.

This is all lots of fun. And in massive contrast to his big brother. Bub had very delayed speech and I don’t remember him ever testing out sounds or doing call and response type stuff. All this makes me think that Baby will be speaking much sooner than Bub did.

Review & competition: HIPP Organic pouches

November 18, 2013

I must confess that I’ve always liked HIPP Organic. Both my little ones used their formula milk (after breastfeeding) and we regularly buy their baby food jars and snacks. So when I had the opportunity to review their new baby food pouches I jumped at the chance.

Eight month old Baby does a lot of self-feeding. His evening meal is identical to ours and he has lots of finger food. But I still use a fair bit of jarred baby food. Sometimes spoon fed by me, sometimes a loaded spoon controlled by him, sometimes on toast or as a dip for breadsticks. Having some new pouches to try was great. Especially when out and about as a pouch seems easier to carry than a jar or Tupperware box. Baby seemed intent on learning how to suck direct from the pouch too which is really not a great look but probably a very valuable skill when mess really isn’t an option.

So what did we try?

Baby’s favourite savoury pouch was the sweet potato, cauliflower & sweet corn bake which he had on toast. More substantial than just a pure veggie mix he wolfed this down.

He also really liked the banana and baby rice smooth pouches. I used these as an alternative to his usual porridge and they proved a handy substitute for a meal out and about.

But his absolute and easy favourite was the banana, apple and apricot with yoghurt. Yoghurt is his favourite food anyway so this was probably a no-brainer. I like that this doesn’t need refrigeration so is perfect for meals on the go.

And so that big brother Bub wasn’t left out he had the plum, pear and blackcurrant smoothie pouch. And really enjoyed it too.

I don’t know how typical a mum I am when it comes to weaning. I love the ideas of baby led weaning but at the same time I’m kinda lazy and willing to adopt a ‘whatever works’ strategy. HIPP did send me the findings of their weaning survey (see below). Only 1/4 of parents are willing to follow their instincts on this issue, according to HIPP. Maybe I’m one of them?

Anyway the nice people at HIPP have promised a £25 hamper full of lovely HIPP Organic goodies for one lucky reader of this blog. To enter just leave a comment on this post. I’ll then pick the winner at random. The competition will close on Monday 2 December 2013.

(Disclosure: I was sent the pouches of food by HIPP Organic. My views are wholly my own.)

Weaning update – 8.5 months

November 7, 2013

Two and a half months into weaning. Baby is doing pretty well and definitely loves his food. But he still doesn’t eat a huge amount. Tiny portions compared to all his baby friends. But he enjoys it which at this stage is probably the most important thing. And isn’t waking up hungry or anything. So he’s probably getting what he needs.

I am being much less purist in my baby led weaning than with his big brother. We started off doing just finger food. But after a month Baby wasn’t really eating much at all and what he was offered wasn’t very varied. He’d have bread really often and very few veggies. I decided to introduce a bit of spoon feeding. This was partly because it was an easy way to vary his diet. But also because he seemed to really like it. I never push him to eat anything he doesn’t want to. And if he wants the spoon to do it himself he is welcome to it. But lots of the time he is happy for me to spoon feed – I think it’s because he gets the food in quicker. So in some ways we have gone backwards rather than forwards. But he seems happy and is very much in charge so that feels fairly baby led to me.

Our routine feels a bit transitiony but has been working for a couple of weeks at least. Here it is:

7.30am Wake, 8oz milk
9am Nap
11am Wake, breakfast
12.30pm 8oz milk
1.30pm Nap
3.30pm Wake, lunch
5pm 5oz milk
6pm Occasional catnap in sling
7pm Tea
8pm Bath
8.15pm 8oz milk, bedtime

His breakfast and lunch don’t really fit in with family mealtimes which is another reason I have used a few more baby food jars etc. Typical meals are:

– Weetabix, or
– Baby porridge, or
– Mini shredded wheats
– Plus a handful of Dry Cheerios or a banana

– Half a baby food jar (stage two)
– Some finger food like toast, bread sticks, baby crisps etc
– Some grapes, strawberries or blueberries

– Whatever the family are having, true BLW style
– Full fat natural yoghurt

Not exactly the most inspiring menu but it works for us! Would love some extra ideas though, welcome your recommendations.



November 5, 2013

Went to a local fireworks display. Baby’s first. It went surprisingly well. He’s very sensitive to some noises but didn’t mind the fireworks at all. Some borrowed war defenders helped. He spent the display tucked up safe in my sling watching the bright lights with a look of complete awe on his face. Three year old Bub loved them too and watched with a massive grin. My boys clearly do have a taste for all things loud.

I didn’t get any photos of our fireworks outing. But here’s a lovely one of the two boys this Halloween.


Eight months old

October 29, 2013

Wow, time flies. All of a sudden my little baby isn’t quite so little. He is crawling, in fact. Amazing. His big brother didn’t do this for another six weeks so Baby is well ahead in the mobility stakes. Probably a by-product of spending much more time on the floor…

Anyway I thought it’d be interesting to contrast the two little ones at the same age. So here we go, first big brother Bub and then little Baby.


These also show another major difference. Teeth. Baby has had two teeth for quite a while. Bub didn’t get them till nine months. Both at this stage are still fairly chubby, though Bub slimmed down a lot once he started crawling. Will be interesting to see if the pattern repeats itself.

So, my two boys. Feels like only yesterday Bub was eight months and now he’s almost four. Gosh!

A taste of independence

October 26, 2013

Baby is increasingly keen to do things his way. He loves nothing more than getting hold of a cup, plate or spoon. Anything I might normally do for him, or keep out of reach, he now wants. He giggles when he gets them too, as if he is thinking “Finally!”

He insisted that he wanted to do his bottle himself. Getting it in his mouth was fine, tipping it up wasn’t. But I’m sure he’ll get there soon.



October 23, 2013

Bub and his daddy went shopping for my birthday. Daddy asked Bub what they should get for me. Bub spotted a piñata and couldn’t imagine how anything else could possibly be as good a gift for me.

So here is my birthday piñata, which I had to fill with sweets myself as they forgot this vital element. Not sure it’d be my number one gift choice but Bub had an incredibly good time!





Changing up the routine?

October 22, 2013

Am getting clear signs from Baby that it’s time to change up on his routine. At present he is still more or less following his routine at six months, with a few solids chucked in here or there. But at nearly eight months he has begun being really fussy with his milk feeds again and I’m wasting loads. His solid intake is ok but not amazing so it’s not that the little lad doesn’t need the milk. But I think maybe he doesn’t need it quite so frequently.

Here’s our current routine food wise:
8am Milk 8oz
12n Milk 8oz (fussy, rarely has much)
1pm Lunch
4pm Milk 5oz (fussy)
6pm Milk 5oz (very fussy)
7pm Tea
8pm Milk 8oz (bit fussy)

The fussy bottles take an age to give him, need to be offered repeatedly, and are almost never finished.

So I think Baby is definitely telling us he’s ready for a change. I am a big Baby Whisperer fan but by this stage her routine advice is pretty flexible. So I shall just tweak and see what happens.

I think I’m going to try:

8am Milk 8oz
11.30am Lunch
1pm Milk 8oz
4.30pm Snack
5.30pm Milk 5oz
7pm Tea
8pm Milk 8oz

This will drop 5oz milk but he’s dropping at least that anyway so I am not too worried. If he has a smaller amount of milk at his 1pm feed I’ll probably switch to a bigger 5.30pm feed just in case.

This approach does load most of the calories into the afternoon. But this has always been his way. In the mornings he is mostly tired and sleeps a lot if he can. Baby is only awake in the mornings for an hour or so before his first nap so I’m not ready to slip breakfast into the mix quite yet.

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