Making allowances for middle earners
Before one could work up a lather of liberal outrage, however, Byrne made some points that gave pause for thought. One was the widely posited notion that while means-testing went against the principle of universality, a flat cut would hurt those at the bottom more. More interestingly, Byrne noted that, as the middle-earners most affected by income-testing measures were more likely to vote, it was easier, politically, to adopt across-the-board reductions that disproportionately hit the weakest in society.
Like the best debates, the discussion highlighted the conflicting moral issues at play. It also closed with a chilling line: with the taxation of maternity benefit also being floated as a cost-saving move, Byrne felt mothers were “being softened for a slap”.
But as Sharon Corr highlighted on The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM, weekdays), there are parts of the world where women, and their offspring, suffer far more. Corr had recently visited Tanzania as part of an Oxfam campaign promoting women’s equality as the key to ending poverty, and returned with a clutch of harrowing tales. Many Tanzanian men habitually beat their wives and children, Corr said, and one-third of women are sexually abused when they are teenagers.
D’Arcy raised the uncomfortable question of how a wealthy white westerner went about changing this, but Corr had no first-world guilt. She tried to create awareness that such violence was wrong, she said firmly, however normal it seemed. While some of the singing star’s beliefs seemed on shaky ground – such as comparing the TV talent contest The X-Factor unfavourably with her own, supposedly more respectful, show The Voice – her sincere commitment to this cause was admirable.
In a week when the vulnerability of children was in the ether, not least because of darker events across the water, it took some chutzpah to make light of victimising the young. But the author and former Fast Show star Charlie Higson did just that, telling D’Arcy he used his youngest son as a “guinea pig” for his new book, a teen horror novel. Having read extracts at bedtime to no effect, Higson was woken at 4am one night by the boy, “in floods of tears” after a nightmare caused by the story. “And I thought, yes, I finally got him.” When D’Arcy quipped that his guest was a “sick man”, Higson jovially retorted: “My books pay for his lunch.”
Caring for children, it seems, always comes with a price.
Radio moment of the week
As Irish media gleefully noted, Ryan Tubridy’s stint on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show (BBC Radio 2, weekdays) was derided on the programme’s Facebook page this week. More ominous were hints that Tubridy lacked the full confidence of his BBC colleagues. Chatting with the traffic reporter Lynn Bowles, Tubridy noted that many people hated public speaking. “It’s a good job no one listens to us,” said Bowles. “Steady now,” came his rattled reply.