In rubbishing the new 'flat rate universal' benefit to be paid to expectant mothers, Chris states that most of Child Benefit (another univeral flat rate payout) is not spent on the Child. Worse than that, half of it is spent on alcohol and most of the rest on adult clothes, according to this paper. So why he asks would we expect this payout to be of any benefit to mothers and their future children.
Three problems with his claims immediately spring to mind, with a further few after that. How is it possible to determine what the Child benefit component of someone's income is spent on? And there must be wide variation amongst recipients - I would imagine some spend it all on booze but some spend it almost entirely on the child. Obviously those who spend it on the child, or those where it helps them with their food bills or maybe even affording a day out are going to be massively helping their children. You cannot just say as Chris does that;
Good parents are already doing as much as they can for their kids, born or unborn. And bad parents don't bother anyway. Either way, more money doesn't mean better upbringing.But some parents just cannot afford to do certain things for their children and many others still, could do more if they had the money. It would be better to say that 'more money doesn't necessarily mean a better upbringing'. Which of course is correct, but still means that some will have a better upbringing as a result of this benefit.
So would it be better to place conditions on what the benefit can be spent on? The short answer is no, because almost any universal benefit is more efficient than wasting money on bureaucracy trying to 'target' benefits and putting a stigma and disincentive to those who are genuinely in need. This is one of the reasons why both Chris Dillow and Devil's Kitchen support the Citizen's Income, as indeed do I. It is in fact one of the very few areas where DK and me tend to agree.