Child benefit, Leveson – a 2012 rant from a Wiltshire mum

As journalists, we are not often able to express opinions about political things – and many of us just don’t want to – but today is different.

Today I feel the need to say what I think both as a journalist and as a mum – and it’s two gripes here:  the Leveson inquiry and child benefit.

LEVESON:

I’ve waited a few days to say what I think of the Leveson inquiry, sometimes it’s best to wait and take stock before opening one’s mouth.

My first point is that a small number of journalists, mainly working on national newspapers, have acted in a despicable and unacceptable manner to ordinary members of the public, and the families of celebrities. Neither of these do I condone.

I also don’t condone senior owners and managers in newspapers getting all cosy to politicians and senior police officers to create some comfortable ‘honey pot’ where deals are done. For this there is fault on all sides.

I have less sympathy with celebrities who court the newspaper press when they feel like it – and moan when they don’t like the type of coverage they get. However, no celebrity should have his/her phone hacked and family members harrassed in any way. Journalists who have used these methods are breaking the law.

People who break the law in any profession are unlikely to be stopped by introducing more laws. For some, the story will always be the goal whatever the means.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve never hacked anyone’s phone, nor have I ever been asked to do so. I’ve never camped outside someone’s house because my employer is interested in writing about their private lives. I was asked to do this just once – I said no. I just didn’t feel it served any public interest at all.

Does this mean I would never write a story of that nature? No – I would and I have, but only when that part of someone’s life encroaches into their public life eg. in criminal cases, politicians who are caught out and action taken against them which comes into the public domain.

Do I think a law should be introduced to control the Press? No, I don’t . The past is paved with good intentions – but whatever the intent of such a law, it could mean that later it’s used to restrict the freedom of the Press even more – and we have a restricted press in this country as it is.

“What!” you may think – well, when I first moved from newspapers into television, I had such a shock when it came to what could and could not be done. In television, the guidelines laid down are far more stringent than in any newspaper and they are, in my personal experience, strictly adhered to.

Take secret filming for example. Due care and attention must be taken before secret filmig is ever approved. As a producer, you cannot just think or suspect that someone is doing something wrong, illegal or immoral – you have to have a strong case. That then has to be approved by the highest manager in the building at the time with a legal opinion. If you jump that hurdle and carry out secret filming, there is another process to decide if it can be used or not. I have been involved in such cases and that secret filming has never been aired.

When journalists break the law they should be prosecuted. I cannot support any restriction of freedom of the press beyond what exists already in the UK. There are thousands of journalists in this country working in towns, villages and cities who are doing a good job bringing stories to light, spreading information and allowing people to have a voice – and some of those stories save lives, bring people justice and raise awareness. This happens every single day.

If you are in any way considering that journalists’ rights should be restricted further. Look no further than revolts, uprisings all over the world where freedom of speech and expression is at risk. The Press in all its forms is one of the first things to be sacrificed or taken over in a time of conflict. It happened in WW2, the Falklands, still happens in China and lately, only last week, communications were cut off in Syria.

CHILD BENEFIT

Image of a five pound note

Money, money, money…..

As a family we’ve known for some time that we will probably lose our child benefit. Now it’s happening, and we are going to miss that extra bit of income each month. We are not a family on very low income, but neither are we a family where the child benefit goes into a savings account for our children’s future – it’s part of the budget for the month, as was always intended.

I do, however, accept that it’s going, I’ve long felt that it’s a benefit which should be means-tested. But this cutting of child benefit is not means tested. It’s a clumsy, discriminatory money-saving tactic which will do damage to this government in my view.

There are two things which have really angered me about this decision to cut child benefit. The first was illustrated when recently talking to some friends. We are two families where both parents work and each have three children. In my friend’s family, the husband is just earning below the higher rate tax level, the mother is also just earning under that higher rate as she has a middle management role and she works part-time. This keeps her earnings below the threshold. My husband is a higher rate tax payer, I’m self-employed and my earnings are not stable. I’ve been self-employed for almost four years and in only one year have I earned enough to match this other family’s household income. On average their family income is about £5k a year more than us – but they can keep their child benefit. How can that be right? In my view, we should both lose it.

The other thing that has really riled me is the letter to my husband where he could opt for me, his wife, to lose the benefit. The benefit is in my name but I’ve received no communication at all. As the higher rate tax payer, he has the letter allowing him to cut off that money on my behalf – which proves to me this is just done for ease of administration. This discriminates, mostly against women and particularly against women who stay at home and don’t go out to work.

Maybe this government thinks all of those families with healthy incomes, but where both partners are under the threshold, will volunteer to lose their child benefit out of a sense of moral duty. Will they b******s!. Would you?

I could have made the decision to keep the benefit with my hubby declaring it on his tax return next year, but then we’ll get hit with a big tax bill. I suppose the only benefit of that would be that I could keep the money, earn interest on it and then pay it back at the relevant time. A part of me wants to do that to be bloody-minded.

However, the plot thickens. You can opt out of child benefit online – where the higher rate tax payer signs in – but the partner – fills out the form. You then get a confirmation that you have ‘requested’ for that benefit to end. The whole wording suggests it’s a voluntary act, like you’ve made an altruistic decision to give up that money to help the nation. That kind of wording really worries me – could it be used against you at a later date if your circumstances changed and you needed to re-apply? Or if it was introduced again universally?

However, I’ve had to ‘volunteer’ to give up my child benefit because of my partner’s earnings. So I either have to bear that loss or I have to try to find extra work to make up the difference each month. Happy New Year!

 

About Fiona

Fiona Scott is an award winning TV producer and Journalist. It has been said what she doesn't know about PR isn't worth knowing. You can read more about Fiona on her page http://www.mumsinmedia.co.uk/fiona-scott/ . Subscribe to the Mums in Media newsletter to stay in touch.

Comments

  1. Graham Carter says:

    I find myself agreeing with every word of your verdict on the Leveson Report, based on my own experience of working in the local press. It seems to me that many of those who are calling for statutory control of the press are mainly concerned with preventing such activities as phone hacking – which are already illegal! Libel laws are also a matter for courts, as now, not a regulatory body trying to oversee the press. To shackle the press at the expense of freedom of speech – in which a free press is absolutely central – is throwing the baby out with the bath water and a serious threat to fundamental principles of democracy and freedom.

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