Kay Bird, a 28-year-old from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, has just returned from a £3,000 month-long holiday to Australia, Bali, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Turkey, Greece and The Netherlands with her ten-month-old daughter - all paid for using her benefits.
She told the Sunday People that she doesn't work because she wants to stay with her daughter until she is a bit older. Instead, she receives £8,500 a year in child benefit, income support and tax credits. However, because she lives with her mum and stepfather, she doesn't need her benefits for everyday living, so saves it up for foreign travel. She told the newspaper she would like to go to New Zealand next.
The Daily Mail newspaper highlighted that she is entitled to benefits because she has no income, she is just in an unusual position because support from her family means she pays no rent, no bills and no housekeeping. And because she returned home within the five week limit, her benefits continued.
Her story has created something of a backlash, with the Express calling her 'shameless', because she said she doesn't feel guilty about how she spends the money, and the Daily Star calling her a benefits scrounger.
Comments in social media and in the comments sections of these stories are overwhelmingly condemning Bird for treating herself with the money, on the grounds that befits are intended for people who are in desperate need, not for people to take the holiday of a lifetime with.
Certainly Bird was naive to suggest she was a role model, because she was spending the money more effectively than single mothers without the same support network she has. She may also have been unwise pointing out that she made sacrifices to afford the trip - like not having the latest gadgets - as most people will be forced to draw the conclusion that it's not much of a sacrifice compared to those that other single parents on benefits are making.
In her defence
However, there is another side to the story. Bird largely focuses on a single argument as to why she shouldn't feel guilty about her spending: once the money is in her account, it belongs to her, and as with any other benefits claimant, she is free to spend it on whatever she needs.
It's an extremely good point. If she happens to be able to persuade someone to let her live rent-free and bill-free, then why not spend it on taking her daughter to see some incredible parts of the world? If we are going to expend so much ire on her world travels, perhaps we ought to assign another few hours a day to being angry over every benefits claimant who makes a spending decision we do not agree with.
All the other benefits aside, you have to ask whether this is the most gratuitous use of child benefit. There are the families who couldn't afford their damaging habits without it, then there are the middle class families who might spend it on paying the cleaner. If we're going to get upset about how Bird spends the money, we should be getting irate about every parent who doesn't spend every penny of this benefit on feeding and clothing their children - in a wholesome and low cost way that we fully approve of.
Child benefit isn't even the most gratuitously unfocused of the benefits - at least this is withdrawn from families when they start to reach the upper echelons of the pay scale. If you want to get upset about taxpayers' money being given to people who don't need it, then why not expend your energy getting angry at every pensioner who spends their winter fuel allowance on their golf club membership, or paying the housekeeper at their villa in Tenerife?
Bird has also explained that she has a ten-month-old daughter, and she has decided not to return to work for the sake of her daughter. This is not a wildly uncommon decision, and it's not without its merits. If we accept that some parents will want to have a hands-on role in their children's life for the first year, why should we dictate that they spend that year at home watching CBeebies?
Perhaps rather than getting angry about how one mother chooses to spend benefits she is perfectly entitled to, we ought to be asking how we ended up in the position where one young mother clearly has more than she needs from the state, while others are forced to turn to food banks or are put on draconian sanctions that leave them contemplating drastic measures.
We have to ask whether the problem is the individual who uses the system to her advantage, or whether there's a problem with the system itself. What do you think? Is all this anger for Bird justified, or is there a bigger issue?
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