Sunday 20 January 2019

Comment: Why I recoiled at the 'baby box' idea - no amount of blankets and nappies will change the reality

Little newborn baby boy. Stock photo
Little newborn baby boy. Stock photo
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

I RECOILED at Government plans to introduce ‘baby boxes’ to encourage potential parents to reproduce, for I know only too well a box won’t help families provide security for children.

I recall vividly being unceremoniously presented with a plastic bag full of free baby products by a midwife when I gave birth to my daughter in 1998 in England.

I was a young student, anxious at how I’d manage financially – but when I looked at my beautiful baby girl, I knew I had the fight in me to succeed.

Yet the pathetic bag of free baby wipes and a few nappies, along with some vouchers, never filled me with hope.

But in that moment, as I perused the measly items, I could never have predicted that almost 20 years later I’d never be in a position to provide a stable home for my only daughter.

Instead, the reality has been far less idyllic. She was born into rented accommodation and unless there’s a radical and drastic change in Government policy, she too could one day become a mother in rented housing.

That a grandchild of mine could one day grow up in rented homes is a dark thought indeed. And honestly, I want better for my family. I worked hard enough for better.

In almost two decades, I’ve spent the value of a home on rent. Of course, this wasn’t a conscious choice but one thrust upon me by State inequality.

Banking restrictions blocked my securing a mortgage high enough to buy a home in Dublin, where the majority of work is.

And the Government has failed to introduce an affordable housing model.

Many single parents like me have simply been locked out of the market. And no amount of baby boxes full of blankets and nappies will change this reality.

For owning a home in the capital in particular has become somewhat an option for the wealthy and certainly not single parents or couples on a modest income.

In Dublin the average house price is now €368,356. In fact the average price has risen by 50pc in just five years.

This is against a backdrop of increasing rents with Dubliners now paying almost €400-a-month more than during the Celtic Tiger, despite rent controls introduced by the Government in 2016.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone is apparently looking at the boxes as one measure to boost the declining birth rate in Ireland.

Statistics highlight that not only are birth rates dropping, but families are also having fewer children.

Fertility rates in Ireland have fallen from 2.1 in 2011 to 1.8 in 2016, according to the ‘Sunday Independent’.

I for one am hardly surprised, leaving me to wonder why the Government is.

Despite indications of a slowdown in growth, financial services group Friends First has predicted a house price increase of a further 10pc this year.

South County Dublin is the most expensive place to be a tenant, with an average rent of €1,995 just ahead of the south city (€1,939) and the city centre (€1,869).

If potential parents continue to pay obscene rents, of course it will be incredibly difficult to save for a mortgage deposit.

While the average full-time wage of €45,611 – a figure compiled by the Central Statistics Office – is dwarfed by house and rental prices. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has vowed to build thousands of homes – including 50,000 social housing units by 2021.

However, supply remains the prominent reason for inf lated rent and house prices.

Minister Murphy is also proposing to make it a criminal offence for landlords in Rent Pressure Zones to raise the rent above the legally permitted 4pc.

But where is the affordable housing solution to allow families to grow and thrive?

I, like many parents, have moved several times. A landlady and later a landlord both apparently wanted their relatives to move in. On each occasion, this led to anxiety and stress for my small family unit

For it has also become increasingly difficult to find a rental home in Dublin. And I faced queues and competitions for a home – one I’d never call my own. Single parents, who bring up children and work, seem to f lourish against the impossible yet in Ireland they are still bottom of the pile, with a system favouring wealthy couples.

No amount of baby boxes will encourage potential parents – who’ve understandably relinquished the aspiration of children due to the unlikely prospect of owning a home – to reconsider.

Perhaps it’s easier to let a dream die than allow the impossibility of achieving it be a torment forever.

Online Editors

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