Archive | April, 2012

For whose benefit? Take 2

27 Apr

Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but I did….Back in February when the Budget was still a glint in the Quad’s collective eye, the proposed Child Benefit changes were already causing a stir.  I wrote about the problems presented by the ‘cliff edge’ of  Child Benefit withdrawal;   the ‘anomaly’ of dual-earning couples where each partner earned just under the threshold maintaining a benefit which single earner-households earning just over it would lose; the cost of monitoring income changes compared to keeping a universal benefit.   A curious mix of costs and (dis)incentives which ignores the fact that Child Benefit recipients live in families, whilst being treated as ‘individuals with children’.

What has happened since is predictably messy.  To address the ‘cliff edge’ issue whereby all Child Benefit would be taken from households as soon as one parent earned over the threshold (initially set at just under £43,000) the Government has set the threshold higher (£50,000) and decided to taper the amount of Child Benefit received for those earning between £50,000 and £60,000 – earn over £60,000 and entitlement disappears.  In replacing the cliff edge with a downward slope of amount of benefit received, the Government has given its administration a costly mountain to climb.

Where children (and let’s remember this is Child Benefit, not Mother Benefit as some seem to argue) live in couple-headed households, and at least one parent earns between £50,000 and £60,000, they will now have to tell the taxman their income and number of children so that the correct amount of individual tax and Child Benefit is paid.  Incomes and living circumstances have an awkward habit of changing, so the taxman will have to keep up a state of constant vigilance to allocate Child Benefit correctly.  Where couples split up, or a Child Benefit recipient moves in with a high-earner, each will have to disclose their circumstances honestly to one another and the taxman.   Sound like an admin headache?  Thought so.  When it comes to relationships and finances, things quickly get complicated – as recognised in the House of Commons Library Briefing on this subject.  ‘It’s complicated’ tends to become ‘It’s costly’.  But then we knew that, didn’t we?

Sweet charity or ‘squeezed fiddle’?

10 Apr

Wonklifebalance has heard it all now.  When the head of ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) on Newsnight refers to the latest Government scheme to raise revenue as something he thought at first was ‘an honest mistake’, but in the cold light of unfolding headlines has realised is anything but, then perhaps we should all get our coats.

As a jobbing policy analyst, Wonklifebalance knows her way around a charitable organisation or two – want to bring together academic thought, innovative practice, half-decent communications and getting to meet someone who might actually be able to do something? – bring on the long unsung, much misunderstood voluntary sector.

So what’s George Osborne got to do with it this time?  In his ‘shock’ at the tax avoidance scams of the super-rich he has decided that charitable giving is a dodge on a par with any other loophole in the tax system that your average six-figure-plus earning grandee might wish to employ.  He has decided to cap tax relief on large donations to charity. Why does this matter?  A) because the government has stated (without naming and shaming) that ‘some’ charities are a front for tax avoidance and are not achieving anything substantial in the wider world; B) because donors are already saying that the changes mean they may not be able to promise the amounts of money they have pledged and forecast to major charities C) because the ‘Big Society’ is supposed to rest on the ability of charities to innovate and respond to local need with sustainable revenue streams D) because Government cuts to the voluntary sector are already  major, and the answer is ‘diversifying sources of income’ – i.e. getting more private sources to donate.  How can this be achieved with the current mixed message around philanthropy?  ‘Give – but only up to a certain point’? For the charities still left standing from the cuts of 2010/11 this is a tough message indeed.

If you look through A-D above, the effect of Government announcements is to discredit and besmirch the reputation of an entire sector:  to say ‘some’ charities are not operating charitably is to imply that the legal requirements of the voluntary sector are not being observed – this is a serious charge which cannot be left to vague assertions without damaging the sector.  And donors, who wish simply to give to a cause which they support are likely to be deterred. To cap the major donations of the biggest donors will undoubtedly cause cashflow problems for the ‘big beasts’ of the sector – and we’re not talking a few less parties, or reduced bonuses:  we’re talking about making progress in cancer research slower, or making the fight against global inequalities harder.  Charities do not operate to line pockets: they operate where other organisations cannot efficiently or effectively tread.  Never mind the big fish, in the charity pond you will find the bodies funded to house the most vulnerable, support the least visible carers, campaign on the issues you haven’t heard of yet.  Stop giving here and it’s not just the Big Society that’s in peril, it’s the future of small, everyday lives that are impoverished.  The radical take on charities is that they are all set up for their own abolition:  solve the identified problem and they will cease to exist.  Pity that the Coalition government’s take seems to be to eviscerate the sector while the problems grow and eat us all from the inside first.

A thinking woman’s guide to Samantha Brick

5 Apr

Wonklifebalance imagines a parallel universe where Samantha Brick wrote about brains, not beauty:

‘I’m no Einstein, but I’m bright, witty and can turn various theories into concise newspaper articles within a few keystrokes.  And whenever I’ve asked how come my ideas have got into print, my colleagues have always said the same thing: my amazing brain power and way with words made their day.

But there are downsides to being this clever – women hate me for no other reason than the way I think.  You may be slamming the door of your spa retreat in my face as you commune over Heat, not Hegel.

And I don’t realise how vulnerable men are.  It’s hard when everyone resents you for your brains.  Men think ‘she’s out of my league and probably frigid anyway’. And no-one wants to hang out with someone more intellectual than they are.

So now I’m in my forties and probably one of the very few women glad to read recently that the first signs of dementia can come on as early as 45. Finally people might stop judging me for my cleverness and just accept me for who I am.’ ……….

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