VICTORIA WHITE: We needed radical reform but got queasy compromises
THIS was the year we voted to protect children in the Constitution, but Budget 2013 has hit children most and disadvantaged children hardest. Most people understand that really difficult choices had to be made, but a lack of political courage has meant that child benefit has still not been taxed. This would have meant working hard to integrate the taxation and social welfare data. It would have meant integrating both incomes of a working couple for tax purposes, so that the tax on child benefit could be calculated on top of a household income.
But it would have meant we could have targeted our few bob at the children who need it most. Instead, every child will lose €10 a month, no matter how difficult his or her circumstances.
There is a sop in the form of additional childcare supports for children in disadvantaged areas. So you’ll be supported to leave your kids for work or training but not to stay home with them.
A few jobs in childcare centres can be added to the employment figures, so much more valuable in PR terms than invisible parents in the home. And the taxation of maternity benefit will, of course, help propel women back to work with all possible speed.
Poorer children lose most again in a huge cut of €50 to the back-to-school allowance. And disabled children lose most of all. The annual respite grant of €1,700 which is paid to all home-based disabled people to give their hard-pressed families a bit of a break, has been slashed to €1,375.
The grant is paid to some families who don’t need it and it is a lot of money to give out in an non-targeted way. But most families who have a disabled member are slaughtered financially, from the little things, like hiring a babysitter for a 17-year-old, to the big things, like giving up completely on career advancement.
Why were the disabled targeted when they should have been sheltered?
Why were the sickest among medical card holders targeted most? The extra €1 on each prescription will hit you every time you get medication, up to a higher family limit of €19.50 a month.
Up to this limit, the more medication you need, the more you will pay. This travels in precisely the opposite direction this Government is meant to be travelling in — towards universal healthcare.
“Crucify” is a word beloved of callers to Liveline and perhaps it is going too far. But the property tax of 1.18% of the value of your home is punitive when it takes no account of family size.
A three or four bedroom home in a safe suburb of the biggest cities could easily attract a tax of over €1,000 a year. I think our house will. Finding the money will be a struggle, on top of another grand or so in lost child benefit and lost respite grant for our autistic son.
For no particular reason, we hit family homes with this tax, but not businesses, who already pay rates, and we don’t hit farm land at all. By contrast the site value tax, to which the Coalition committed in the Programme for Government, could have been extended to tax all land.
A “green space” tax-free allowance for each child could have been introduced as part of the site value tax. This would have recognised the fact that larger families need bigger houses.
Unlike the property tax, a tax on land isn’t a tax on development and home improvement, both of which provide desperately needed jobs. And because a high tax would be paid on good, serviced land, whether it was developed or not, there would be welcome pressure to develop vacant sites.
I have sympathy for this Government in the difficult job they are doing. But what we needed was radical reform to target funds relentlessly at the young, the poor and the disabled, and what we got was a series of queasy compromises.
© This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Thursday, December 06, 2012