I was invited onto Radio Foyle last week to discuss benefits provision to people who have larger families. I always knew it was going to be controversial.
The starting point for the coversation was that Tory MP Harriett Baldwin stated that she believed that the government should only provide benefits for up to four children. After that, she said, you would be on your own.
Of course there was an uproar. There were cries that her statement was immoral - that no one had the right to tell anyone how many children they could have. There were cries that such a hardline policy would serve only to increase child poverty for the offspring for those who have more than four children.
I saw those points - believe me I did. But it didn’t change that feeling in my gut that Harriett Baldwin had a point. These are tough times we are living in. We are very lucky to be supported by a welfare state in the first instance - no matter how flawed it may be - but we can’t expect to live our lives without thought for others or thinking that we have a right to be provided for by the government no matter what we do or don’t do.
The thing is that all have us, in this day in age, have to have a sense of responsibility for our actions.
Having children is wonderful - and it is a gift.
This much I know is true, as I have two wonderful, much wanted and much loved children at home. Yes, procreating is a right and I absolutely and 100% agree that no-one should dictate how many children people should have. To have those fundamental rights taken away would go against my deepest moral codes.
But Harriett Baldwin didn’t suggest for even one second that women or men face sterilisation after the birth of their fourth child. She didn’t come anywhere close to suggesting that.
What she merely suggested that if you choose to have more than four children, the state shouldn’t pick up the bill for those subsequent children.
What this in effect could mean is that those who, for whatever reason, rely on benefits have to decide if whether having that fifth child would be pushing the family budget too far and perhaps decided that it’s not a great idea after all.
It’s hardly draconian.
There are many people, working on low or middle incomes, who have to make that choice.
With little or no government support in the first instance people who work have had to make conscious, financial decisions about what they can afford.
Another child can add hundreds to a childcare bill, it can add a fortune to the yearly clothes/shoes/ uniform bill. It means a bigger food bill. A fuel bill. More toys at Christmas. More pressure on your purse.
Finances have certainly played a role in my family size.
I want to be able to provide for my children the very best I can.
That is not at all to imply that those on benefits do not provide for their families - but I know that even with “only” two kids, a modest mortgage and a fairly sedate lifestyle I find it tough to make ends meet from time to time on the basics, never mind the luxuries.
My children are by no means spoiled - they do get the occasional treat. They have all they need and a fair share of what they want.
Keeping our family smaller means that when the time comes, should they choose to go to university, we should be able to support them.
I realise that is a personal choice - and not the only choice people can make.
But we have had to be realistic and responsible. Why make life for more difficult for everyone by having children we will struggle to provide for?
I accept that there is no joy like becoming a parent - and that material things absolutely pale into insignificance when it comes to the love you give to and receive from your children but parenting is hard work.
Why make it harder by adding financial worries into the mix?
It comes down to looking at things in a very basic and maybe oversimplified way.
We are very lucky that we currently have a government who support people who have families.
In an ideal world I’d love to see the government support families more - and help allow mothers to have more of a choice as to whether or not they can stay at home to raise their families.
‘Not an ideal world’
But this is not an ideal world.
The welfare state is in danger of crumbling around our ears. We can’t keep taking and taking without realising that something has to give somewhere.
We all have to make tough decisions and unpalatable choices and maybe now the time has come to stop, think about what we doing and realise we aren’t owed or guaranteed support with no sense of moral responsibility to back it up.
It may sound harsh but life is harsh at times and it’s time we all took responsibility for our actions.