Nasty cut to maternity grants
Today the government published their plans for new regulations on Sure Start Maternity Grants. The Grants help low-income families meet the extra costs of maternity and having a new baby and the government’s plans will stop families qualifying if they already have a child under 16. This will halve the numbers qualifying and cut spending £73 million a year. Measures like this have to go to the statutory Social Security Advisory Committee before they can be introduced and today’s publication includes the SSAC report and the government’s response to the points they made.
The TUC sent the SSAC our views on the proposals. We pointed out that:
- A cut to maternity benefits must have negative equality implications – it will have the worst effects for women and members of some minority ethnic groups.
- Large families – which are disproportionately likely to be poor – will be hardest hit, so this change will increase child poverty.
- It will also hit families with unexpected late additions, second families, migrant families, women escaping violence and families that have come down in the world and never realised that one day they would need means-tested help.
We were glad to see that the SSAC’s report makes these points. They made two main recommendations: either that the government should wait until plans to extend Budgeting Loans to cover maternity costs have been brought in or that the savings should be made by halving the payment, rather than cutting eligibility.
The government’s reply is breathtaking – their answer to the first recommendation is basically that they want their savings now, and they don’t care to wait. On the second, they say they announced this policy back in June and they don’t plan to change it now.
They add that fewer than 10 per cent of second children were born more than five years after the first child. The government has nothing to say about what is to be done for this minority and refuses to accept any other reason why families may not have items that can be reused for other children.
It’s hard to know which is worse: the hard-hearted unwillingness to consider the likely impact on poverty or the bald-faced insistence that they’ve decided their policy and nothing anyone else says is going to change their mind.
Update: ASDA calculate that parents spend £1,407 in a baby’s first month and £9,152 in the baby’s first year; 72 per cent of pregnant women say their biggest worry is the costs associated with the new baby.