Monday 9 December 2019

Time to stop picking on young families

Picture posed. Thinkstock
Picture posed. Thinkstock


parents and families are enshrined in the Constitution, politicians tell us they are the backbone of society, the State depends on them for stability and priests praise them from the pulpit. Yet they have been the target of successive budgets.

There have been so many new charges and taxes inflicted on this section of Irish society during the downturn and it is estimated the parents of young children are now €3,000 a year worse off than before austerity - and that does not take into account pay cuts they may have suffered. When you factor in the prohibitive cost of childcare you have a section of society living on the edge, a plight so well documented by Donna Hartnett. Her letter to this newspaper revealed a raw honesty, bordering on despair, that tapped into the pressure so many parents and families are under.

So why are families on the receiving end of so many cuts?

Mostly, it would seem, because they are an easy, disorganised target. The so-called 'grey vote' got their retaliation in early when the Government capitulated on attempts to curb Medical Card entitlements. Other sections of society with louder voices have managed to largely protect themselves from the brunt of austerity.

Of course, the Government could argue that families benefit most from state services, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and so should contribute more. But it does seem unfair that the one section of society bears an unequal burden. Tax policy, from individualisation to the pairing back of tax relief on health insurance has adversely effected families. There are many who argue that Irish politicians have squandered the bust. Instead of root-and-branch reform of the institutions of the State, we applied a sticking-plaster solution that got us through the worst years without rioting. But it means that taxes are unequally applied and benefits (such as Child Benefit) are universally applied, when a more targeted approach would make for better social policy.

Families are not feeling loved, and today we have the evidence of why this is so. It has contributed to the explosion over water charges and is something the Government may rue at the next election, unless it begins to shift quickly towards a more family-friendly approach.

Rural broadband plan delayed long enough

Another month brings another volley of promises from the Government about connecting rural Ireland to high-speed broadband. But when will any of this be delivered?

The Minister for Communications has reiterated the Government's promise to connect 700,000 rural homes and businesses to fibre broadband using public funds. In so doing, he has indicated that high-speed broadband should no longer be considered a first-world luxury, but a utility such as electricity and water.

The question, though, is when - and whether - it will actually happen. The Government says it must wait until 2016 to begin construction of the new infrastructure due to EU state-aid hurdles and procurement procedures. It also admits that the service would not be fully constructed until 2020 and that it has not yet been provided for in budgetary estimates. While right-thinking people will wish the project well, they will also start to expect that action will soon follow gung-ho press releases. Broadband is now a fundamental resource, not a luxury item. It's time to get a move on with the project.

Irish Independent

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