Image by nerosunero via Flickr
Sometimes, even in this hyper-connected age of instant communication and networked everything, the world outside my little bubble passes me by. It happened again over the last few weeks.
Busy rising to the daily challenges of the working parent, I somehow managed to miss the speculation, commentary and excitement on the “An Bord Snip Nua” report and the recommended public spending cuts it contained.
It might have something to do with the ludicrous name. No matter the gravity of the Special Advisory Group’s proposals, calling an advisory body on spending cuts “Bord Snip” makes it very hard to take it seriously.
But there’s no doubt the cuts the group advocate are deadly serious. One of the recommendations that’s causing particular consternation among parents is the proposal to universally cut child benefit. The An Bord Snip report says: “Further savings of €513m should be achieved by effecting a 20% reduction in the Child Benefit payments.”
Thousands of over-stretched parents around the country are railing against a universal cutback that, if applied verbatim, will see the monthly child benefit payment fall by €30 for first two children and €67 for subsequent children. Such cuts will, by their very nature, bite deeper for children in families most in need of support. A voluntary lobby group called the “Protest Against a Child Unfriendly Budget” (PACUB) has already collected more than 9,000 signatures in an online petition at www.childbenefit.info, and amassed a following of more than 2,900 members on the social media website Facebook. It urges parents everywhere to get involved, sign the petition, write to their TD and generally make their voices heard against what they see as draconian cuts to an essential supplement to family income.
“Parent’s belts have been tightened so much over the past few months in coping with the recession – they are about to snap! Before targeting our children – cutting resources from the vulnerable – every available effort should be made to find an alternative,” said a spokesperson for the group. “Our members are willing and ready to take direct action to preserve child benefit at current levels for all children living in Ireland.”
According to PACUB the Government has consistently made families the number one target for tax increases and levies. Now they accuse it of targeting children to pay for “toxic debts run up by the banks and developers”. While much of the rhetoric is sensationalised, it is true that singling out child benefit for the single biggest cut in the Social Welfare budget smacks of picking on the softest target to maximise return. Everybody, parents included, realises the Government needs to make tough decisions as it tries to refloat a scuppered economy… but chipping away at child benefit isn’t really facing up to tough decisions, is it? It seems more like following the weasel path of least resistance. As it did in the “supplementary budget”, the Government seems to be rounding on those least likely to oppose it — our children — rather than locking horns with sectors more ready, willing and able to fight their corner. It’s acting like a playground bully, when what struggling families need is a champion.
For families in Ireland — even middle-income families with two full-time earners — child benefit can be a crucial lifeline. After paying the mortgage, astronomical (and unsupported) childcare costs and the monthly household bills there’s often precious little left in the coffers to cover the essentials children need to thrive and grow. The Government may be struggling to make ends meet — but so are families up and down the country. We’re all being hit hard by the recession; instead of targeting families, our Government should be helping parents to sheild our children from the brunt of it. But don’t hold your breath!