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Merryn's Blog

Why does the media hate the child benefit cut? Because it affects their own families

Scrapping child benefit for higher-rate tax payers is a 'tax on the middle classes', scream the papers. But it's not. The average wage is far lower than the Daily Mail would have you believe.

They're a powerful lot the media. Anyone in any doubt should just ask themselves what constitutes a "middle earner." If you answer £44,000 to £48,000 you've just been nobbled by the press.

The Daily Mail calls the abolishing of child benefit for higher-rate tax payers as a new "tax on the middle classes". The Telegraph makes a similar point. The Times quotes a "senior Tory backbencher" as saying that the policy represents "a frankly worrying failure to understand the family finances of those on middle incomes". Another MP fumed unchallenged to the papers that the Tories no longer have a feel for "Middle England". And even Yvette Cooper was doing the rounds yesterday referring to people earning £44,000 to £50,000 as being on "middle incomes".

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But it just isn't true is it? Just because newspaper columnists and MPs can't see how anyone could live on less than £40,000 a year doesn't make £40,000 £50,000 a middle income in the UK. In fact, the mean income is more like £26,000 as David Cameron pointed out earlier this week when he announced that household benefits payments were to be capped at around that level. And the median is around £20,000. So £45,000 puts you in the top 10% of earners in the UK, and £59,000 puts you in the top 5% (if you ignore all the tax dodgers that somehow don't make it into the stats).

And despite all the carping from the quality papers (even the Guardian) the truth is that among real middle earners, the scrapping of child benefit for those they consider to be rich is overwhelmingly popular: a YouGov poll in The Sun shows some irritation with the anomalies I discussed in yesterday's blog but an overall approval rating of 83% for the policy. That's huge.

And it also makes it hard to escape the idea that journalists and MPs oppose the cut not because it makes sense to oppose it, but because it actually affects them. That's a problem because a great many of the cuts to come are also going to affect them. And as a sensible editorial pointed out in The Times today, the government is going to have some trouble with the great task ahead of it if "every time there is a serious attempt to address the problem it is met with an unedifying display of self regard dressed up as moral outrage".

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