Denise Robertson: Support those who raise our children

I don't think George Osborne is just a posh boy who doesn’t know the price of a pint of milk

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

I don't think George Osborne is just a posh boy who doesn’t know the price of a pint of milk.

But some of the things he does are so daft someone should have a word in his ear.

Withdrawing Child Benefit from rich parents was feasible in these parlous times, but the way it was done was crazy. If one parent earned over £60,000, payments of Child Benefit stopped. Two working parents could earn £40,000 each – total income £80,000 – and still get paid. 

Now he’s dropped another clanger. Working parents with salaries up to £150,000 each are to receive help with childcare. Stay-at-home-mums get nothing.

And Mr Osborne was in more trouble over his comment that women who stayed home with their children had made a lifestyle choice. A phone-in on Radio 4 deteriorated into a war between the two groups of mums. There was real resentment there. And not just the mums.

One man had, he said, worked all the hours God sent as an HGV driver, taken odd jobs, asked for extra shifts so that his wife could stay home. Now his kids were grown, why was he being asked to pay tax to help rich men and women?

Most women who go out to work do so because their wage is vital to the family. But a joint income of £300,000 doesn’t need support. That should go to people like the mother of two teenagers who contacted me last week.

Her abusive husband has left, but not before clearing their joint account. Her income is £315 a month wages plus child tax credit and benefit: £9,000 a year. She can’t pay the mortgage from that so eviction looms, her phone has been cut off except for incoming calls. She’s been told she isn’t entitled to any more help.

She has not so much made a lifestyle choice as fallen between the cracks.

Let’s be kind to those who raise the nation’s children, Mr Osborne,  but, please, can we start from the bottom up.

SILVER SPLITTERS

The number of over-60s who are filing for divorce has increased. They’re being called silver-splitters and commentators are shaking gloomy heads.

The implication is that we have lost the will to stay together for five minutes, let alone a lifetime.

I don’t think human nature has changed, but times certainly have. Once, a woman had to stay within an unhappy marriage because she could not survive outside of it. Now, she is economically capable of supporting herself.  If her relationship is not happy she will leave it.

Men too have been liberated by women’s economic independence. No longer must a man endure an unhappy relationship because, without his financial input, his family would perish. That is not to say the present system is perfect. We tend to enter into relationships too quickly and leave them too easily. Hopefully, we will learn to use our new freedom more wisely.

In the meantime, let’s not be too pessimistic. Today we have more broken relationships. Years ago we had a great deal of private misery. I know which I prefer.

LIVING OFF CHARITY

The number of executives at British charities who draw six-figure salaries has risen by nearly  60% over the last three years. And that’s not counting cars and other perks. 

Sir Nick Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, saw his pay jump by 12% to £184,000, despite a 3% fall in revenues. The head of the Alzheimer’s Society picks up a reported £134,330 and the rich list goes on.

Seeking to quieten the furore, Justin Forsyth, who heads Save the Children and earned £163,000 last year, listed all the good works his charity had carried out.

The list was impressive, but surely he was missing the   point.

If his organisation hadn’t handed staff bonuses worth more than £160,000 last year, they could surely have saved even more children. 

Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross says: “Disproportionate salaries risk bringing organizations and the wider charitable world into disrepute.” His words might carry more weight if he didn’t trouser £50,000 for two days’ work a week. That’s about £130,000 if he worked full-time.

The fact is that most executives at our leading charities have lost sight of the fact that their revenue comes from people who earn a fraction of £100,000 or are on a pension and want to help those worse off than themselves.

Is there something about getting to the top that makes you lose sight of what is proportionate?

LIFTING SPIRITS

I adore Desert Island Discs. Last week’s guest was announced as an Israeli-American psychologist, winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences,  notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology.

I admit my heart sank. Heavy stuff, I thought. Solemn music. Oh how gloriously wrong I was!

Daniel Kahneman’s choice of music was perfect, his conversation even better.

The story of his encounter with a German soldier, a meeting which had a lasting impression and probably shaped his career, moved me to tears. He had hidden the hated star which marked him as a Jew when the soldier beckoned him. Terrified he would be found out, he was amazed when the man hugged him and then showed him a photo of his own son.

He had been missing his child and hugged a substitute, not realising the boy was Jewish. Such small events can shape a life.

Catch the repeat on Friday morning if you can. It will lift your spirits.

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