Kids cost money and if you don’t have that money then should you really have them?
That’s what I thought until recently when it hit me – if you own (or lease) a luxury car but can’t afford it then you shouldn’t have it – but there’s no investment case for having children, so the analogy does not apply.
Kids are expensive, exhausting, capital and time intensive creatures who are a decades long commitment and who have a worryingly increasing financial burden as they grow up and mature. Only an idiot would argue that they save you money!
The cost of a pram for an infant could easily be £500 or more (we bought each of ours second hand for around £150) while when the sprogs hit 17 £500 won’t get them through their driving test, let alone buy them their first motor.
And think of how when you were first together with your partner that you were happy with a love-cave. Well, with kids you need at least an extra bedroom and a £250,000 mortgage. And when the Bank of Mum and Dad needs to help out two to three decades later you can be on the hook for a five figure “gift”.
If you haven’t started already, you’d better start saving because kids are not cheap!
You can’t sit from a middle-class perch and bemoan the privilege of the spoilt oligarch class’s children whilst bemoaning the precariat’s offspring very existence. Partly because someone is bemoaning you and your kids and partly because bemoaning never did anyone any good. The young have it tough in life right now, and maybe having a head start with rich parents only makes the ultimate mediocrity worse. But the headwinds facing anyone under the age of me are stark:
- Education that was once free is now not
- Housing (either bought or rented) is priced to fleece you and leave you with nothing
- Pensions are pitiful – both state and private – and the goalposts are moving backwards
- Careers are insecure, stunted, worse paying, failing the inflation test and taxed unfairly
With these things in the background; at what point does having kids look like a smart financial decision? It’s not and never will be. But encouraging people to have children is a social good and should be rewarded.
Without kids, our demographics turn into a coffin shaped nightmare. Fewer kids a generation ago leads to a worsening dependency ratio of non-tax payers (<18 & >60) vs. tax payers (18-60), which only gets worse now and even worse in a generation. Who is going to look after the elderly when we can barely look after ourselves? And this is look after in both direct ways (healthcare workers, NHS, care home workers) and by proxy (taxes and national insurance paid by the working to pay for their elderly – who don’t pay as much themselves).
We can hope to import young people – either from Eastern Europe or now Ukraine – but that faces it’s own problems that I don’t need to go into.
I’ve written about child benefit before but what is clear to me is that child benefit doesn’t cover the cost of looking after a child. You wouldn’t dream of paying pensioners £21.15 a week as a pension or £35.15 for a couple. It’s a ridiculously low sum of money – yet it’s there to help.
Tax-free childcare allows eligible tax payers (workers) to benefit from a £25% / up to 2,000 per year per child boost to what they pay towards childcare. However, it’s complex, the HMRC website is clunky and whilst it’s beneficial to some, you can’t get it if you are on benefits and if your kid is in nursery, it won’t cover the costs fully.
The UK & Scotland’s 600 hours of free childcare for over 3s needs a closer inspection. First of all, the rate of pay that they give providers is less than their actual running costs. Our nursery charges more and we live in a low cost of living area of low cost of living Scotland. It’s also only available for us after your kid turns 3, you might have to wait a few months. This free money/hours is only available if they are in registered childcare settings.
I’m not familiar with the quagmire that is Universal Credit and the joy of child tax credits and working tax credits. But needless to say, the waters are muddied.
For all of these solutions which don’t cover the full cost of having kids; why not just give the parents the money directly? If the free market is considered good enough for enterprises to unleash their animal spirits, why do parents not have the same trust placed in them?
For one thing, if money for children wasn’t tied to employment so much, it might mean that parents don’t have to go out to work to get the funding to pay for their childcare that their kids need because they are out at work. And when employers know that staff are precarious like this and much of their real pay packet comes not from the employer but from the government, they know that they can pay poverty wages. Think back to BHS, whose owners paid massive dividends while its employees relied on millions in benefits.
We are now sitting in a new landscape, post covid and with inflation ravaging everyone’s earning power. Taxes are rising to pay for the fact that the government hasn’t balanced its books in decades and there’s no obvious solution to the problems that we face. We tried flag waving nationalism and look where that got us. We once genuinely believed that things were going to get better – but now, who’s really sure about that? What we do need a future where having kids is properly rewarded and that doesn’t become a burden. Our own reproductive decisions can’t be made by spreadsheet decision making – and if they are, then we’ll all suffer long term. So go easy on anyone who have more kids than money – having a family isn’t and shouldn’t be primarily a financial decision. All children should receive the same levels of support – and that includes financial support. Otherwise, inequalities (the same privileges that I’m working hard to give to my kids by the way) that exist in society will only grow bigger and equality of opportunity will be watered down to a Dickensian dystopia where the rich get idly richer and the poor are worked to the bone.