Making allowances for middle earners
RADIO REVIEW:AS HE INTRODUCED a report on the possibility of the children’s allowance being slashed, Pat Kenny asked the question that has become de rigueur regarding this Government’s policy proposals.
“Are these drastic cuts going to happen,” the presenter wondered on Wednesday’s edition of Today With Pat Kenny (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), “or are we seeing just another kite being flown?” If the latter was the case, it was the equivalent of launching a kite in the middle of a particularly violent electrical storm.
As last week’s numerous radio items on the subject testified, the potential cut in child benefit is a charged issue.
Kenny was introducing a vox pop by Paddy O’Gorman with mothers collecting the allowance, in Shankill, Co Dublin. Despite hailing from different backgrounds, each of O’Gorman’s three interviewees – a separated Welsh woman in a part-time job, the wife of a young working couple strapped by negative equity and childcare, and an unemployed single mother of teenage children – made it clear they would struggle to raise their children without the money.
Kenny concluded that if these women were anything to go by, any Government moves to decrease the benefit would be “politically fraught”, although the presenter also noted that it was a small, random sample of the population.
In fact, it wasn’t random at all. O’Gorman had spoken to those who could not afford to wait for the money to be paid into their account, and hence were much more likely to be financially squeezed. As is generally the case with the roving reporter’s items, its chief value was as a glimpse into the unseen corners of Irish life, spiced up by O’Gorman’s trademark queries into his subjects’ personal lives, which at times make him sound like a frustrated matchmaker.
“Have you a man to love?” he asked Stacey, the single mother. When she replied in the negative, he pressed the matter, wondering if she missed “having the company of a man”. Stacey’s rebuff to this vaguely skin-crawling line of questioning was as emphatic as it was spirited. “Ah no, sure haven’t I Fifty Shades of Grey for that?” One wouldn’t be surprised if the Government started encouraging such racy celibacy among the wider public, given the drain children apparently pose on funds.
Feelings on the matter were running high over on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), as Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council and the entrepreneur Nicola Byrne debated the issue on Tuesday. O’Connor told the host, Matt Cooper, that in the absence of wider child-support measures, the allowance was all most parents got from the State. Byrne, by contrast, viewed the subject through the conventional prism of austerity. She claimed Ireland had the best welfare state in Europe, adding for good measure: “We are known for our welfare migrants.” We now had to “readjust downwards”, she said. As a mother of four, Byrne felt she should be means-tested for the allowance, which had become “an entitlement”.