My daughter loves parties. She loves cake and singing happy birthday and, above all, she loves party bags. Parenting forums such as Mumsnet are often full of threads bemoaning the plastic tat you get in party bags and suggesting you give kids a book or donate to charity instead. Well my daughter loves plastic tat, as did I. Give her a pot of bubbles, a balloon and a plastic dinosaur and you'll have a special place in her heart. Not that she doesn't like books or do-gooding as well, but they don't really suit the frivolity or jollity of a party.
We went to a party yesterday. She went to bed talking about her party bag and woke up asking for it. We will make a special trip to the park this afternoon just to blow the party bag bubbles and chase them. Ah, the small, yet massive, pleasures, that make up a childhood.
It's things such as these that upset me most about the 'Bedroom Tax' and benefit cuts. Well that and denying people enough money to have housing and food and clothing. Those tiny things that me and George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith probably think cost hardly anything, that we are making even harder for people on benefits to afford. A pot of bubbles. Birthday candles. A balloon. A day out to a museum with 50p to spend in the shop. An apple juice in the cafe after a run around the park. A present if you are invited to a birthday party. Just make a card you say? Sure - but how to afford the paper and crayons? A swim in the pool in the school holidays. The bus fare to go and see a friend. A magazine or comic that you have absolutely set your heart on. A piece of cake.
I don't go in for vouchers instead of money. Zoe Williams explains why perfectly in her column here. But even if you don't object to a voucher scheme, what would you do? A voucher for a candle? A voucher for a bubble?
That's the thing about this Government that strikes me even more than any other - they are not only anti-aspirational, using rhetoric about getting into work (what work?) and improving lives to actually make lives harder and dull any aspiration by removing the likelihood of achieving it, but they are actually preventing a whole generation of children from having what they and their own children take for granted, and should take for granted - the occasional thrills of an everyday party bag that to some is tat, but that is far far more precious than that.