independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Kevin Myers: Spare child benefit? There are 90 other areas that can be hit

The National Women's Council was sent among us to raise a smile when smiles are few. It is the hilarious, elegantly ironical organisation that receives €1m a year from the Government, and that employs no men, even as it denounces Portmarnock Golf Club for having no full female members.

Its latest campaign is against any cuts in children's benefits, because of the economic damage this would do to professional mothers who need to pay for childcare while they're at work.

Of course, what the NWC is therefore saying is that children's benefit is not for the benefit of children, but an economic subsidy for those who need childminders. But the language we use is still English. The welfare in question is called "children's benefit": because it is for the benefit of children.

It was introduced to ensure that money was being actually spent on children -- on clothes, and food and milk and heat. The dementia of welfarism has so robbed state handouts of any literal meaning that many people -- especially in the NWC -- no longer hear the words "children's benefit", but actually hear instead "income support for working mothers".

Yet the one group of women for whom "children's benefits" were originally intended -- the stay-at-home mother whose family was financially dependent on the at-work father -- is one of the few groups of women for whom the NWC appears to seldom speak.

This is because stay-at-home mothers are violating the feminist canon by making a real choice as to how they live their lives: for feminist freedom is solely the freedom to live your lives as feminists decide. Thus, the greatest assault on women's financial welfare was the individualisation of tax bands: it was a disaster for stay-at-home mothers, who are now having to pay the health levy too, though without an income to enable them to do so. But from the NWC, silence on the plight of such hapless mothers.

Instead, they have been raising a furious rumpus demanding that the wives of Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, Sean Dunne the property developer and Bono should be allowed to claim children's benefits. It is true that they didn't actually name these men, or their wives, Mrs O'Airline, Mrs O'Towerblock or Mrs O'Taxhaven, but they will all be the beneficiaries of the NWC's demand that there be no cut in children's benefit, regardless of the income of the recipients.

There is a lesson here for all the architects of the future structures of government. For our many state-supported quasi-autonomous agencies not merely provide career structures and pensions for those who work within them: they also have a powerful influence over government policy. This is a circular system: the Government funds unelected liberal-feminist-egalitarian agencies, and is then expected by them to dance to the agendas they set.

The NWC says it has some 90 allies in its opposition to cuts in, or taxation of, children's benefits, all under the umbrella of the Children's Rights Alliance.

Presumably, all 90 support the rights of Mrs O'Airline, Mrs O'Towerblock and Mrs O'Taxhaven to drive to the local post office in their Bentleys and claim their children's allowances, even if they choose not to.

One of them is Amnesty International. Now, keen observers of the strange world of the quango rights industry are aware that Amnesty has of late been spreading its imperial wings. It originally began by demanding freedom for a Portuguese man in Salazar's prison cell. Now it has forceful and declamatory opinions on littering, breast-feeding, double-parking, immigration, global warming, airline taxes and the laws on offside in soccer and lbw in cricket. It is also -- according to the NWC -- in favour of keeping children's benefits as they are. Once Amnesty defended the rights of prisoners of conscience; now it wants Mrs O'Airline to get my money.

And not just Amnesty has this noble aim in mind. So too has the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, who are so concerned about the benefits of children that they both took yesterday off. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is also opposed to the removal of children's benefit from the very rich. So too is the National Parents' Council and the National Youth Council. So too are both the Catholic Guides of Ireland and Irish Girl Guides. So too is the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

Also backing the right of the rich to children's benefit is the Society of Vincent de Paul. And the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. And City Arts. And easily my favourite of them all: The National Association for the Treatment of Abusers apparently is of like mind.

Most -- if not all -- of the 90 movements allegedly backing the NWC's demands on children's allowances are state-funded. I suspect that many have not given any thought to the fact that their name is being used in a campaign to influence the outcome of the Budget.

Either way, I suggest that Brian Lenihan remembers these state-supported, self-appointed quangistas of the human rights industry, the ones that are trying to mobilise popular opinion against the Government at this time of national crisis. And I then trust that he finds his pockets strangely empty when it's time once again to disburse government money amongst them.

kmyers@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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