You do the maths!
So you think €140 a month is a ludicrous amount for the state to pay over in Child Benefit, do you? “Cut it!,” you say. “Means test it!,” you cry. Let me tell you why you’re wrong. I have three figures to share with you. Are you ready? Here’s the first one:
What’s that? That is the amount that we pay out of our net income each year for childcare for one child. (And that’s just for four days a week!)
And that? That’s the amount we receive in Child Benefit. Now tell me, which one of those is a ludicrous amount? Because let’s face it, Child Benefit barely takes the edge off when it comes to our childcare costs. It conveniently arrives into our account at the same time each month that the creche fees come out. Most months, it’s gone before we even notice it’s there.
And if it’s cut by €40 a month, it won’t feel to us like a cut in income. It will feel like a €480 a year increase in our childcare costs. Or after our second baby arrives next year, a €960 increase. And I am furious at the unfairness of it.
I have one more figure for you. It’s a smaller one, but an important one.
The cost of taking my child to the doctor. Actually, if it’s out-of-hours (as it often seems to be, because children are unaware that you’re only supposed to get sick from 9-5 Monday to Friday), that figure is €60. A couple of doctor’s visits in a month and a few prescriptions, and there’s not much change left over from the Child Benefit either. It’s a strange quirk of the Irish health system. If you’re rich, obviously the costs associated with bringing your sick child to the GP don’t make a difference to you. And if you’re poor, then a medical card means that you don’t have to pay for doctor’s visits. But if you’re somewhere in the middle, then whether you like it or not, you can find yourself in the situation where you ask yourself: “How sick is my child? Does he really need me to take him to the doctor’s office, to pay €45 to be told to give him a spoon of Calpol and he’ll be fine in a few days?” I know we’ve done it in the past. And the guilt, to find myself thinking about finances while considering my child’s health is tremendous. And unfair. If my child is sick, my only thought should be on appropriate treatment. But I have to wonder, if Child Benefit is cut, how many more families will find themselves foregoing doctors’ visits because they just can’t afford another €45 or €50 that month?
We missed the boat on the Celtic Tiger – we bought a small two bedroom house, safe in the knowledge that even if one of us lost our job, we’d be able to cover the mortgage repayment on one salary. And now the negative equity on this little house is twice its value. We never imagined when we bought that we’d still be here when we had our second child. But now we find it hard to imagine we won’t still be here by the time that child is moving out. We’re not looking for sympathy. And we’re not expecting a bailout! We’ve both still got jobs, we can pay the mortgage, so we’ve got a roof over our heads – even if it’s a small roof – and cutting Child Benefit by €40 per child per month won’t stop us putting food on the table. But that doesn’t mean that cutting our Child Benefit is fair or equitable.
I don’t believe any discussion on child benefit should take place without an associated discussion about the costs associated with raising a child. Childcare isn’t a luxury for us. It is a cost of working. Without it, one of us would have to quit work and stay at home to mind our child. And what impact would that have on the exchequer? Because we each pay a lot more each month in income tax than Child Benefit equates to. Yet for some reason, the money we pay for childcare is treated as though it’s discretionary spending from our disposable income rather than the working expense that it is for us.
As working parents, we don’t get any tax credits for our dependents. In fact, there are no tax credits that I know of for children in Ireland. Child Benefit is the only allowance that we get. Yes, you read that right. Our children are our dependents, but there is no tax credit available for dependent children in this country. Dependent elderly parents, yes. But not children. I wonder how many of the people who argue against the payment of Child Benefit realise this. I think people just assume that if you have children, your tax credits somehow reflect this in the same way that they reflect your other circumstances, such as whether you are single or married. But they don’t. We have one allowance for our child, and it comes in the form of Child Benefit.
What if the government changes its mind on making a universal cut, and introduces means testing as many are proposing? I can see why people think that it’s a fairer way to cut costs – but ask yourself, is it really fair while there are no tax credits for children? Or tax allowances for childcare? Or free universal healthcare for children? If the government decides to assess our means, will the figures they take into account reflect the real income we have to work with once we’ve forked out for childcare and healthcare?
We know the country is in trouble. We know we all have to play our part. All we ask is that the part we play is fair, and cutting our Child Benefit is far from fair.
10 Irish parenting bloggers have joined forces in a “BlogMarch” to raise awareness of the crippling impact that cuts to child benefit will have on Irish families if introduced in December’s budget. The bloggers are publishing a blog post each over ten days to highlight the negative impact that child benefit cuts will have.