Children sacrificed to gods of the market by inhuman budget


These measures reflect a failure to see human beings as anything but economic units

MOLOCH HAS been on my mind recently. He was a god of ancient times, traditionally portrayed as a bull, who demanded child sacrifice. Some scholars doubt he was ever worshipped, but as a metaphor, “Moloch” entered the English language.

The markets are the modern Moloch. They are capricious and unpredictable, and their wrath is terrible.

Sadly, in this country, it appears we have decided that the poorest children must be sacrificed to the demands of Moloch.

Anyone objecting to particular parts of the budget will be told there is no alternative: we are in dire straits, and cuts must be made. But surely even if we have to humbly bow down to the markets, we can decide where we inflict the pain?

Fine Gael’s ideology is that to tax the rich is to prevent job creation, and they are selling this budget as being pro-business. Labour seem merely to have acquiesced. However, very many wealthy people in this country create no jobs at all, but are simply high earners.

“Everyone has to take the pain” is the mantra, but the effects of the recession are very unevenly distributed. The budget disproportionately affects bigger families and lone parents.

Some of the poorest children in the country are in lone-parent families. They also have the highest rates of children with disabilities, perhaps because the strain of raising a child with a disability causes some marriages or cohabiting relationships to break down.

Measure after measure will disproportionately affect the poorest children. There has been a desperate lack of vision in the budget, with yet another horrible cliché entering the language – “activation”.

Lone parents are to be “activated”, that is, encouraged to enter the paid workforce. Yet paradoxically, some of the measures will have the opposite effect.

Joan Burton declared that by reducing the age to which payment is made for a child to 12 in 2012, and seven in 2014, she is bringing “Ireland’s support for lone parents more in line with that provided internationally”. She neglects to mention that in many other countries, flexible work practices and decent childcare are considered to be part of the package of any so-called “activation”. Without them, workplace participation is not possible.

The cuts to community employment (CE) schemes illustrate the incoherence of the budget measures.

For many, they are a valuable connection to training and work experience.

More importantly, CE schemes are essential to community childcare and care of the elderly. New CE scheme applicants will no longer be able to retain the one-parent family payment and their CE salary. These cuts should be reversed.

The budget reflects a failure to see human beings as anything other than economic units. Mothering and fathering are not valued in our society, no matter how much lip service we pay to them. If they were, there would not be a concerted effort to push more and more parents, particularly mothers, into the workforce.

Certainly, just like many married parents, many lone parents recognise paid work will help to keep their children out of poverty.

However, they also recognise that taking care of their child is their primary responsibility, and will want to work for pay only in ways that will not jeopardise that vital role. Turning children into latch-key kids from the age of eight fails that test.

Much talk of work is hypothetical, anyway, because where are the jobs? The measures concerning the income disregard (the amount a lone parent can earn without penalty) make the work that is still available less attractive.

From January 2012, the income disregard is being reduced from €146.50 to €130, and by 2016 to €60.

Some lone parents have very low educational levels. Where are the part-time courses or modular education to help them improve their education? Without these, how will they get jobs?

The increase in the amount to be paid before rent supplement can be applied and the reduction in fuel allowance and in the back to school allowance mean the same subset of people will be hit every time – the poor.

Not to mention VAT increases, school transport costs and the cut in school capitation grants. If the poorest children are to affected again and again, there has to be some mechanism to compensate, to put money back into these families, especially larger and lone-parent families.

The same ideological drive that sees paid work as the only valuable work also affects married families. This budget did not directly affect income tax rates for single-income married families, or continue with tax individualisation.

However, previous budget measures, according to Social Justice Ireland, have the effect that in 2012 a one-income couple on €60,000 with two children will have an effective tax rate of 26.2 per cent.

This compares with an effective tax rate of 16.8 per cent for a two-income couple, also with two children, where one parent earns €40,000 and the other earns €20,000.

This sends the clear message that unpaid caring work is less valuable than paid work, and that mothers in particular must be pushed into the paid workforce, no matter what the cost to families and communities.

The few protests we have had have been on behalf of particular interest groups. Is it not time, though, for us all to show social solidarity, and reject measures that disproportionately affect the children of the poor?

It is time to stop making sacrifice to Moloch.