Exeter Bishop claims child benefit change 'unfair'
CONTROVERSIAL Government changes to child benefit have come in for scathing criticism from the Bishop of Exeter.
The Rt Rev Michael Langrish, who is to retire later this year, hit out at the "significant" unfairness of the move which, he argued, penalised single-earner households which already had a "very rough ride" from the tax system.
And he took the prime minister to task over arguing the changes were "fundamentally fair".
The church leader accused David Cameron of having "an odd definition of fairness" where two parents both earning £49,000 would keep the benefit, while a household with a single-earner on £60,000 would lose all of it.
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Under the reforms, families where one parent earns more than £50,000 will have their benefit reduced on a sliding scale, and will lose the payment completely once their salary hits £60,000.
Official figures reveal at least 590 families in the city will have the payment reduced or stopped.
In Tiverton and Honiton it is 850, Central Devon 1,040, East Devon 970 and Newton Abbot 660.
Critics have warned many families, which have not opted out of claiming the benefit, now faced having cash clawed back through complicated self-assessment tax returns.
Speaking in the Lords, Mr Langrish said: "The majority of one-earner families are one-earners out of necessity rather than by choice.
"This is extremely important because there are those who give the clear impression that one-earner families should not be helped because all stay-at-home parents should get paid employment.
"This is a deeply misguided view which has no regard for the constraints one-earner families operate in, the sacrifices they make and their significant contribution to the national wellbeing.
"For any tax to be sustainable, it is vital that it is fair and is seen to be fair.
"However, that is not the effect of the higher-income child benefit charge.
"Under the charge, a one-earner couple begins to lose its child benefit at £50,000 and loses it completely at £60,000, while the two-earner family next door has the potential to earn up to £100,000, so long as neither income rises above £50,000, and keeps all its child benefit up to nearly £120,000, so long as neither income reaches £60,000, before losing it completely.
"This is not a small unfairness. It is very significant."
Before the last General Election, Mr Cameron, then in opposition, spoke of his commitment to helping one-earner married couples by giving them a transferable allowance.
Mr Langrish said: "This commitment was a key part of the 'Broken Britain' narrative that made it into the coalition agreement, and yet, to date, the only thing the Government have done is actually to make life much harder for one-earner couples."
He called for reform of the child benefit system.