Wednesday 11 December 2019

Raising a family should not exact such a financial toll

Very few mothers can afford to take unpaid maternity leave. Picture posed
Very few mothers can afford to take unpaid maternity leave. Picture posed
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

IT could be called the parents' dilemma.They are financially damned if they both go out to work, and they are also hit in the pocket if one of them stays at home to raise the children.

Over-stretched in monetary terms because they paid too much for a house during the crazy housing boom, many parents cannot afford for one of them to care for a child in the home.

Mothers are entitled to six months' paid maternity leave, and up to 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave.

But very few can afford to take the unpaid leave.

So the mother goes back to work after maternity leave.

The most common childcare arrangement is a relative looking after the children, with this usually involving the grandparents, according to the recent academic study 'Growing Up In Ireland'.

Others are forced into the emotional strain of getting children out of bed at crazy hours and leaving them in creches.

We and the Americans have the ignominy of being the most expensive country in the advanced world for childcare.

A family with two children spends 40pc of the average wage to meet childcare costs, according to the influential Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Childcare payments of €1,000 a month for one child mean this is equivalent of a second mortgage for families.

The balancing act of managing work and having two parents working, especially when a child is ill, is one that pushes many adults to the edge.

And one parent opting out of the workforce is a huge gamble. This is because tax individualisation imposes a huge financial penalty on stay-at-home parents.

Tax individualisation means a two-income couple can earn up to €67,600 before they hit the top income tax rate. For a single-income couple the top rate kicks in from €42,800.

Many parents of younger children are burdened with big debts, especially jumbo mortgages. They bought at the top of the market. They may have a tracker, but still have huge monthly repayments.

And the financial punishment visited on families from six years of budgetary adjustments has been merciless.

A typical family with young children is down at least €3,000 a year from changes to child benefit, the loss of the early childcare supplement and other charges and cuts.

And this is before taking account of income tax hikes, the universal social charge, property tax, and on and on.

In that context, the demand of the National Women's Council and the Congress of Trade Unions for more paid leave for parents is not unreasonable.

The two groups along with Start Strong want 16 weeks paid leave to allow parents stay at home with a child under one, in addition to maternity leave.

It is a campaign this publication is happy to support. But it remains to be seen if a Cabinet of mostly older men and women, most of whom have grown-up children, sees the importance of this.

Irish Independent

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