It’s not only in the UK that the principle of universality has been called into question. The French government has said it is committed to universality – but the main option being considered is means-testing to limit the value of the benefits to the better-off, which is rather a strange interpretation of what ‘universality’ might imply. The Fragonard report has reviewed several options for cutting family allowances, introduced in the 1930s. It’s not an easy read. The basic model seems to be based on a means test which will reduce benefits by different formulas, and the alternatives being considered are for different thresholds. (Before anyone asks, no, I don’t understand the formulas. The report explains: “In this system, household income is divided into parts and the progressive scale is applied not to the income but to the parts of income.”) A Le Monde article shows how it all works out. More than two-thirds of a poll sample agree that the benefits should be means-tested.
They do things differently in France, of course. Opposition to cutting universal benefits, according to Le Monde, comes from the political right. And it seems the issue is being linked politically with the idea of gay marriage, which is something of a conceptual leap.