29 June 2009

Child Benefit is Lenihan's next Target

Mary Hanafin (left), the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has confirmed that the Irish government will soon "reduce the amount it is spending on child benefit payments".

In future the payments are to be either means-tested or taxed, but a decision which of these two options would be more appropriate has not been made yet.

The matter will eventually be decided by the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan (right), who is currently more than € 10 billion short of his budget and has to find at least another € 4 billion in savings and spending reductions this year. It is expected that he will wait with his decision until he has received a report from the Commission on Taxation, which is due shortly.

According to Mary Hanafin the universal child benefit is costing the State € 2.5 billion per year. And since child benefit is so far paid to every mother who has a child or children, regardless of income and social status, the scheme is a natural target for Brian Lenihan.

Politicians from different parties and various interest groups have openly criticised the 'free for all' child benefit in the past, making the point that it is also paid to people who are certainly not in need of it (like millionaires and very well-off professionals and civil servants).

Social conservatives have also remarked that the generous payment of child benefit - regardless of circumstances - is one of the main reasons for the high rate of unmarried young mothers and teenage pregnancies in Ireland.

Although I would not regard myself as conservative, I agree with this point. In fact, I would go much further than the government is contemplating. I would abolish universal child benefit completely, and thus save the State at least € 2 billion per annum.

The idea of child benefit payments is a relatively recent addition to the government's social welfare budget, and it is a fact that there was never a shortage of children when there was no child benefit available from the State. Quite the opposite, actually, as birth rates were much higher in the past than they are now.
And somehow most of the children born without the taxpayers' financial assistance were brought up without problems. There were a lot more stable families in the past, and much less unmarried young mothers and teenage pregnancies.

So it could well be argued that child benefit, initially intended to support mothers on the lower end of the social scale who were really struggling to make ends meet, has become an unintended stimulant for less stable families and a lot more single mothers who can live quite comfortably on a combination of social welfare, child benefit, housing benefit and various other benefits available to them.

There are plenty of girls and young women in Ireland who see an early child as their ticket to social and financial security. Most of them come still from the lower end of the social scale, and many are poorly educated. When they leave school, there are few jobs or careers open to them. They might find a low-paid job in a supermarket, but that would pay them less than they can make on state benefits, if they have at least one child.

I know plenty of such cases here, and not far from where I live there is a communal housing estate with about twenty houses, all of which are occupied by single mothers and their children. The rent they are charged by the Council is minimal, and if they play their cards right, they can receive additional benefits in kind, such as a certain amount of free electricity and telephone units each month, a free TV licence (which costs € 162 per annum for other people) and a winter fuel allowance for the cold half of the year. Some have even managed to get free bus passes.

For these women having children out of wedlock has become a very profitable 'business', and usually they have a few children by different fathers before the age of 30. Apart from various visiting boyfriends there is hardly ever a man to be seen in that housing estate, and not one of the women is in a stable relationship.

I am no moralising prude and have no problems with women who have children out of wedlock. But I do resent that I - and all the other Irish taxpayers - are made to pay for it. Every weekend one can see scores of these single mothers flocking to the various bars, discos and night clubs in the city, scantily clad and with plenty of money to spend on their weekly 'big night out'.
Personally I am not interested in that sort of lifestyle, and I don't take alcoholic drinks. But even if I would be attracted by it, as a hard-working single man I could not afford such extravagance on a regular basis.

So I do think that the abolition of universal child benefit would do a lot more good to our nation and society than it would cause hardship to some. Those mothers who are in real need should of course be supported by the State. A means-tested child benefit, integrated into the normal social welfare scheme, could take care of that.
And it would cost the State not more than € 500 million a year. Which means that by making such a clean cut, Brian Lenihan would have already half of the sum he needs to save this year.

There would most likely be an outcry from certain quarters, such as radical feminists, ultra-liberals and various soft-minded do-gooders. But that would not be for long, especially if the State is fair with mothers who really need help, but firm with those who use child benefit payments to finance their fashion clothes, fancy shoes and the weekly 'big night out'.

Due to the recession and the massive increase in unemployment in recent months Ireland's social welfare payments have increased "very significantly", as Mary Hanafin put it. There are now many families, as well as single people, for whom the bare survival depends on the weekly payment of basic social welfare. These payments cannot be reduced, unless the State wants to risk widespread extreme poverty, social unrest and a serious increase in petty crime.

On the other hand it is quite clear that the current social welfare budget of € 21 billion per annum is - as the Minister stated - "just too much" for Ireland in the current economic crisis.

Child benefit is not only the most obvious and logical target for a spending cut, it is also the most fair from an overall perspective. If people want to have children, it should be their responsibility to look after them and pay for their upbringing and education. There is absolutely no reason why people who are childless should pay for the children of other people.

Children are a blessing, and childless people often suffer enough emotionally and mentally from the fact that they are without offspring. It is extremely unfair to burden them financially with children other people produce in a carefree or careless way, expecting the State to pick up the bill for decades to come.

In the housing estate I mentioned above there is a 'family' of women, consisting of meanwhile three generations of unmarried mothers and their children. The head of this 'family', a woman in her late forties, had four daughters out of wedlock, each by a different father. Her eldest daughter, now in her early thirties, has three daughters out of wedlock. And her eldest has just given birth to her first child - another daughter - at the age of 15!
None of them was ever married or in a stable relationship. And none of them has ever worked a single day. All they do is to live a rather comfortable and secure life, have children out of wedlock, and expect the State to pay for it all.

I don't want to give the impression of being too harsh, but in my opinion this all-female 'family' is nothing but a bunch of feckless parasites.

Abolish universal child benefit, and they might well be forced to live forthwith in the real world. They might still carry on with their immoral and selfish lifestyle, especially as they are by now so used to it, but at least Ireland's taxpayers would no longer be forced to finance it.

As regular readers of this weblog know, I am not a friend of the current Irish government. But if Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin have the guts to abolish universal child benefit, I would be the first to applaud and congratulate them.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you're very brave to call for abolition of the child benefit payments, but you're right. it's meant to support the raising of children, but in most cases it's just extra pocket money for the mother and used by her having fun.
I work in a pub and see it every week how the social welfare money and child benefit for the single young mothers is spent on drink & fags.

Post a Comment