Frontlines – Tax Credits

The bungling of tax credits has damaged New Labour’s claim to be compassionate, writes Jennifer Harvey 

Now so often a source of distress, tax credits appeared to start off so well, and gave so many working parents an income they could comfortably live on.

New Labour was the first government that seemed to acknowledge that single parents aren’t all feckless scroungers. I’ve never understood the reasoning by which the single parent becomes the villain, while their errant ex-spouse, now happily married to someone else, is seen to form the respectable family unit.

Maybe all that changed with the death of single parent Princess Diana who was always (and particularly at that time), seen to be more sinned against than sinning.

As her death coincided with the dawn of New Labour, the nation’s new found compassion seemed to extend to the introduction of working families tax credit.

At that time I was separated with three teenage children, and doing two jobs. Tax credits encouraged people like me to work.  We could also get free prescriptions, dental treatment and council tax rebate.

Critics of working families tax credits said it encouraged people to settle for low wages rather than put pressure on employers to pay a living wage. I just wanted to feed my family, like thousands of other parents who benefited. I didn’t question whether it was a good thing.

Somewhere in the intervening years it seems to have gone wrong. The government has, quite rightly, extended tax credits to a wide range of people: disabled people, people over 50, anyone on a low enough wage – but the bureaucrats who “manage” the system have lost the plot.

I would like to think that there are still people out there who are benefiting from tax credits, but all I hear are horror stories.

My own experience was that I was inundated with letters, often contradictory, sometimes in the same post, and finally ordered to pay back several hundred pounds. I didn’t. I wrote a letter asking why I owed it. No one seemed to know, so they let me off. This is no consolation for the people owing thousands in overpayments who are now treated much less leniently. 

It’s hard to think now that we ever considered this a compassionate government.  Princess Diana wouldn’t approve.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties

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