Jessie Collins: Maternity tax mars enjoyment of this special time
IT'S hard to describe the feeling of fury when Michael Noonan dropped the maternity benefit bombshell in yesterday's Budget.
At seven-and-a-half months pregnant, as I am with my first child, you are trying to manage your outgoings and save as best as you can for what is probably the most financially impactful event in your life.
Then you are hit broadside with a levy on what is going to be a paltry subsistent amount, which will be all that stands between you and keeping the wolf from the door.
You are already having to shore up funds to be able to even factor in the possibility of returning to work, where you will be offloading a hefty portion of your salary to put your baby into care, so you can again contribute to the tax system in a greater way.
You feel punished, robbed, not just of any kind of back-up that you thought you had accrued, but of the right to just enjoy what is supposed to be a unique time in your life.
The state maternity benefit is not a windfall. At an average of €217 a week, it is just above job seekers' allowance, just.
And let us remember the bigger picture here.
In the private sector, your employer legally does not have to pay you any maternity leave.
They simply have to keep your job for you.
So, as an expectant mother, you are already at the mercy of hard-pressed businesses and individuals, many of whom, understandably, find the burden of paying two salaries for one job right now just too much.
Many women find themselves plunged from being a regular salary earner to returning to an income they perhaps haven't lived on since they were in college.
It's almost a direct ghettoisation of women.
That is certainly the message that comes from the State, something now further compounded by yesterday's move.
It is hard to imagine that, if men were the ones to take this six-month leave, that (a) there would be any question that their employers would not have to continue to pay – or at a minimum, contribute – to their salary, and (b) that such a cut would be ushered in at all by what seems to be just a continuing stream of male-dominated governments – for true to the phrase, turkeys rarely vote for Christmas.
All in all, it begs the question, with this tax and the cut to child benefit, could this Fine Gael-led government be any less pro-life or pro-women?
Jessie Collins is editor of 'Irish Tatler'