Charities, academics and opposition politicians have united to condemn comments by a Conservative minister who appeared to blame large families living on benefits for their own poverty.
The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that having children is a choice and “it's not going to be the role of the state to finance those choices”. He was defending plans by the coalition government to impose a cap on the amount a family can receive in benefits, regardless of its size.
Hunt told the BBC that, “The number of children that you have is a choice and what we're saying is that if people are living on benefits then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices”.
Critics immediately pointed out that a couple may have decided to have a number of children while working, only finding themselves on benefits due to the current economic situation. They suggested that children would suffer as a result of the government's approach.
“The bankers who are most to blame for this crisis are getting billions in bonuses again, yet it is children in poverty who are paying the price,” said Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.
She added, “Forcing children into destitution on the arbitrary basis of how many brothers and sisters they have is abhorrent. As families brace themselves to discover whether their jobs will survive the cuts it is awful that those with larger families should face this extra anxiety”.
Sally Copley of Save the Children agreed. “Children are the ones who'll end up suffering if a parent suddenly loses their job because of the economic crisis, or if their mum or dad becomes a single parent," she said.
Donald Hirsch of Loughborough University accused the government of making a “real simplification” by dividing poor people into the deserving and undeserving.
He said that it was right that people should be expected to look for work, but added, “if they lose their jobs, we think about their needs, not just some crude comparison with someone who is working on an average wage”.
The Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, joined in the criticisms. “We need to support all families in this country and certainly not lecture them in the way that Jeremy Hunt sounds like he's doing,” he said.
Garnham also pointed out that the number of very large families in Britain has declined considerably over recent decades. She was one of several commentators and campaigners to suggest that the existing levels of poverty are the really scandal.
Copley added, "Politicians should be focusing on how they are going to meet the target to end child poverty in the UK by 2020 rather than perpetuating the myth of the 'undeserving poor'”.