ALWAYS, amid all the bluffs and swagger, Irish radio calls can crystallize the mood of the audience.
Nowhere was this more evident this week than when a woman named Frankie called the RTÉ today post-budget phone show. Long-standing tradition gives the public the opportunity to ask questions about what was and was not included in the previous day’s budget.
As Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath pitched the budget as a helping hand to workers, the scale of the vise around the compressed middle has been laid bare by Frankie in single digits : € 20,580.
That, the price of a decent new car but not half the cost of a James Bond-themed 50th birthday party, was what Frankie and his partner pay in childcare expenses each year for his two children.
This includes a 10% discount because they go to the same nursery, a national grant, and early childhood education and care hours. She was, she told ministers, forced to consider either cutting her hours or quitting the job market altogether.
Mr McGrath showed empathy, calling it “a huge amount of money” and touting the virtues of the government’s child care plan as presented on Tuesday, which expands the national system universal
childcare program subsidy for all children under 15.
The grant provides 50c per hour for the cost of a registered child care place for a maximum of 45 hours per week.
In an effort to attract and retain childcare staff, a new funding stream will support nurseries and other providers, a € 69 million package aims to employ graduate staff, establish career structures and improve services without increasing costs for parents.
This funding was provided, McGrath said, as part of an agreement with vendors that fees will not increase.
While it is both logical and morally correct to invest 200 million euros per year in the sector to support the recruitment and retention of staff, the minister acknowledged that this would not “put a big dent” in what Frankie pays.
Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the last Dáil by Minister for Children Anne Rabbitte, which would have exempted nurseries from commercial tariffs, lapsed with the change of government.
If this bill had passed, it would have meant that Frankie’s nursery would not pay the € 40,000 in rate it owed last year and could pass this savings on to parents.
These are systemic flaws of a system built without planning. When Charlie McCreevy individualized taxes in the 2000 budget, it was to fill the gaping gaps in the Celtic Tiger’s burgeoning workforce, but there was no idea what these people, for most of the women who were “encouraged” to join the labor market would do so with their children.
The one-income family, in which most people over a certain age grew up, were killed without any thought on how to balance the workforce with the family. This lack of thinking has persisted for two decades and we are now at the point where a one-income family buying a home is a pipe dream for most.
For those who are going to run to find their reflex against the tide – and it shouldn’t be said in 2021 – the economy needs workers and it needs children. Our retirement needs will be in great difficulty by 2040 and € 21 billion in the red by 2070. Not having a current or future source of funding for social insurance would be a disaster.
Besides, what nobody asks for it to be easy.
Frankie did not call Claire Byrne on Wednesday to request a free ride, for a home nanny providing
24 hour care provided and paid for by the State. She just asked that she and her family have some money at the end of the month.
There is a scene in the first episode of the fourth season of the American political drama West wing.
Three of the president’s staff find themselves stranded in Central America. Outside of their DC bubble, they remain disconnected from their “true American” counterparts.
Until they meet a man in a hotel bar who is trying to get his daughter to college, who tells them, “I never imagined that at $ 55,000 a year I would have struggling to make ends meet. And my wife brings back 25 more. It should be tough. I like that it’s hard. Getting your daughter to go to college is, it’s a man’s job. The fulfillment of a man. But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier. Because in this difference is… everything.
No one in Ireland wants it to be easy. There is no worker who does not accept that there are limits to what a government can do, but a helping hand here and there – or at least the foundation of systems that do not work against it. you – is not much to ask.
Ireland is now teeming with workers and working families who have followed what they were told to be the path to a comfortable life – work hard, go to college, find a job – who have good wages but have difficulty. They struggle in systems that are poorly built or not at all planned, and they struggle because when you come up against those systems you have to fight to be heard.
Like the family of Adam Terry, whose scoliosis surgeries have been delayed, making him feel “at the bottom of the barrel.” His case, the Taoiseach told Dáil, is a systemic failure, not a question of resources. But isn’t it worse?
If we didn’t have it and couldn’t do better, that’s an argument. But being able to do better and won’t that happen? Let Adam struggle in agony or a six-year-old girl named Rosie with dislocated hips because their surgeries weren’t done? It is unacceptable.
The Taoiseach says this system has failed. McGrath acknowledges that the child care system is struggling due to years of underfunding. The less we talk about our health and housing systems, the better. Large capital projects die in the vineyard, the “temporary” direct supply system remains a stain on us all.
Ireland is a good place to live by all international standards. But it could be better with just a little
initiative or imagination.
However, when the CEO of the country’s largest local authority’s response to a legitimate student question about a student housing crisis is a sarcastic suggestion to become real estate developers, is that something you’d expect to see?