Last February the NAO found that the Government had overpaid £6 billion of tax credits. Not only was this an all-too-frequent example of incompetence by government bureaucracy, but it was compounded by the requirement on many of the country’s poorer families to pay back money they had already spent. The Ombudsman has upheld many complaints by families who have suffered in this way.
Yet this is not the only way the budgets of poorer families have been hit by the Prime Minster’s ham-fisted machinery for helping them. His predecessor Tony Blair said in 1995 that Labour “cannot be morally neutral about the family” – but once they were in power, he abolished the married couples’ allowance, diverted funding from pro-marriage groups to supporters of “anything goes” relationships and targeted benefits irrespective of family structure.
Result: single mothers on low incomes are better off living apart than staying with the fathers of their children.
Given the overwhelming accumulation of evidence regarding the effects of father-deprivation and family break-up, especially on boys, can we be overly surprised by the rash of stabbings that have taken place recently in many parts of the country?
Not content with undermining the family – one of the few things that the state can neither provide nor completely control – the Government has also, in thrall to its egalitarian doctrines, effectively destroyed many of the best schools, creating huge underperforming comprehensives. Children in these institutions, without the stimulus of competition from academically selected classmates, still condemned to “child-centered” learning ideas and channelled into the easier of the dumbed-down subjects by teachers desperate to meet government targets, are lucky if they leave with a handful of ‘C’-grades at GCSE. Many are functionally illiterate and innumerate.
The Government must stop churning the benefit system through tax credits. It would be far simpler to raise tax thresholds. Instead of recycling money people have already earned and paid to the Government, that would let people on very modest incomes keep more of their own money.
We could start with the recommendation made by Lord Forsyth in his tax review, of raising thresholds significantly. For part-time workers – many of whom are single mothers – it would lift them out of tax altogether. It would be far simpler than the current cumbersome system.
It would also be morally right. As would making marriage pay again. Of course I am not suggesting that people will get married purely for the sake of a little more cash, but at a time when all but the richest are having to tighten their belts, it is one less thing for those who want to start a family to worry about. It also sends a signal about the importance of marriage – a “nudge” – in the latest political language.
When it comes to the increasing violence on our streets, in the short term, a policing strategy similar to that adopted by Rudy Giulani as mayor of New York is in order. There must be no pussyfooting around when it comes to reclaiming the streets from the gangs. Dedicated neighbourhood teams of properly armed police, freed from their desks, must have the mandate to reclaim the streets for the law-abiding.
David Cameron’s recent speech in Glasgow used terms I unreservedly applaud. He was brave enough to say:
“We as a society have been far too sensitive. In order to avoid injury to people’s feelings, in order to avoid appearing judgemental, we have failed to say what needs to be said. We have seen a decades-long erosion of responsibility, of social virtue, of self-discipline, respect for others, deferring gratification instead of instant gratification.”
“Instead we prefer moral neutrality, a refusal to make judgments about what is good and bad behaviour, right and wrong behaviour.”
Nothing could better illustrate the aptness of his words than the statement by police after a mob attack last Thursday in Croydon on two policemen whose only provocation was to ask a fifteen-year-old girl to pick up some litter she had dropped:
“Whilst we would never use the term ‘mob’, which is an inflammatory word, we can confirm that eye witnesses have discussed their initial fears that officers were going to be seriously injured or killed.”
The policemen concerned were beaten and bitten by a mob of up to 30 youths – supported by adults. It happened at 3 pm in the town centre.
Enough is enough.