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van Turnhout on Budget 2010: The Rights of the Child

HRiI has  the pleasure of introducing a further guest blog on the impact of Budget 2010 from Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance.

Budget 2010 was the most discussed, debated, analysed and awaited Budget in the country’s history.  Never before has a Budget generated so much anticipation, concern – even fear – across all sectors of society.  At home and abroad Budget 2010 was seen as the Government’s chance to show that it was capable of leading the country out of recession; and could demonstrate to international partners that Ireland can take steps to reverse its misfortunes and emerge strong.  The McCarthy Report on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure (‘An Bord Snip Nua’ report)[1] and the Commission on Taxation Report,[2] both published in summer 2009, advised Government on how to achieve an overall budgetary adjustment of €4 billion.  At Cabinet, it was agreed that this year the focus would be on cuts, not taxation.

In total, measures announced in Budget 2010 amounted to €4 billion in savings, made up of over €1 billion from the public sector pay bill, €760 million from social welfare, €980 million from day-to-day spending programmes, and €960 million from investment projects.  With these reductions, the Government aims to stabilise the national deficit in a fair way, safeguard those worst hit by the recession, and stimulate the crucial sectors of the economy to sustain and create jobs.

However, though the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan T.D., may have aimed high for the country, he was not fair to children.  The Child Benefit payment – universal acknowledgement of the cost associated with bringing up children – was cut by €16 per child.  Families on low incomes will be compensated using the Qualified Child Increase (QCI) and the Family Income Supplement (FIS), but this fails to recognise existing problems with these payments.  Increasing the QCI risks creating a poverty trap.  And, while the take up of FIS among low paid workers has increased, it still remains low – meaning that not all children in low income working families will benefit from the top up.  Families just above the income threshold for FIS – many of whom have taken significant cuts in pay – get no relief from the reduction in child benefit.   The Government, by tinkering with an already flawed system, has missed the opportunity to integrate the tax and welfare systems and enable the introduction of a targeted ‘second tier’ payment for all families on low incomes, regardless of whether that income comes from welfare or from low paid work.

Raising a child is no cheaper today than it was yesterday.  Consumer prices may well be going down, but, the costs associated with children increased in 2009: childcare by 6%, primary and secondary education by 7% and healthcare by 3%.[3] For those on medical cards the cost of prescriptions is a new burden; and for lone parent families, the cut in the One Parent Family Payment risks pushing them further into poverty.  Put simply, there is no relief for families in Budget 2010.  It still costs €60 to take a child to the doctor.  In Dublin, childcare still costs €1,000 a month.  A basket of healthy food will still cost a family of two adults and two children €141 each week.[4] The difference is that now there is less money to pay for these things.  So who suffers? Children.

Because children do not grow up alone, they are part of families and communities, and their childhoods are affected by the experiences and means of those around them.  The headlines emerging from Budget 2010 are the cuts to public sector workers, even for those earning less than €30,000; and the 4.1% cut to all social welfare payments, including those to parents.  The Government has missed the point – that each individual cut affects the same child.  It is the same child whose mother’s pay has been reduced, whose Child Benefit has been cut and whose asthma prescription medicines now cost €120 per month under the Drug Payment Scheme.   It is the same child, living in a lone parent family, whose father’s One Parent Family Payment is cut and who is forced to borrow money to help with the cost of Christmas, in the absence of the Christmas bonus.

The greatest cuts to social welfare were targeted at those under 25 years claiming Jobseekers Allowance; but targeting the young for these cuts ignores the fact that this is not a homogenous group.  We question how the new rules on Jobseekers Allowance will apply to a young person who has just left care or detention, who does not have a family home to return to, and with a poor school record is struggling to find a job?

We acknowledge that there are some positives in Budget 2010 for children, such as:

  • Commitment of €3 million for a constitutional Referendum on the Rights of the Child in 2010
  • €15 million allocated to the Ryan Report Implementation Plan
  • Capital investment in mental health and in youth justice.

But overall, the Alliance believes that Budget 2010 weighs too heavily on children.  The Government had to raise revenue.  That is not in question.  But it had choices to make in how it did that.[5] By selecting payments targeted at children for cuts it demonstrated that nothing, not even childhood, is safe from the Government knife.

Jillian van Turnhout

Chief Executive

Children’s Rights Alliance

The Children’s Rights Alliance has produced a comprehensive analysis of the Budget, entitled: Analysis of Budget 2010 and its Impact on Children.

The paper is split into three sections:

  1. Analysis of the Budget with commentary on the key issues for children, as identified by the Alliance.
  2. Detailed descriptions of the measures introduced in relation to the departments of social welfare; education; health; and the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs etc.
  3. Useful background information, including extracts from Alliance pre-Budget submissions, our post-Budget press statements, and a list of our member organisations.

It can be found at: http://www.childrensrights.ie/files/AllianceAnalysisBudget2010_101209.pdf

Transparency in the Budgetary Process

Improvements in the budgetary process are needed to ensure appropriate and accessible information is put into the public domain.  In undertaking our analysis, the Alliance was unable to access budgetary information on some of the key issues of concern to us.  In some cases, this information was not yet available to departmental officials whose programmes would be directly affected by the budgetary measures.  For example, we were unable to locate any reference to the delivery of promised appropriate care to separated children, the development of the new National Paediatric Hospital or ongoing investment in Primary Care.  Furthermore, in other cases top-level budget lines are identified with no reference to individual programmes or initiatives, such as child protection in the HSE, accommodation for asylum seekers, and play and recreation facilities.

[1] The Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, Government Publications Sales Office (16 July 2009).  The report of the Special Group was published in two volumes and can be accessed at http://sgps.gov.ie

[2] Commission on Taxation Report (2009), Government Publications Sales Office.  Available at http://www.taxcommission.ie/

[3] Central Statistics Office, Consumer Price Index, June 2009.

[4] Healthy Food for All, Policy Briefing: the affordability of healthy eating for low income households, October 2009.

[5] The Children’s Rights Alliance, as members of the Community and Voluntary Pillar of Social Partnership supported broadening the tax base as a way to raise revenue, starting with the closure of the 111 tax breaks outlined in the Commission on Taxation Report.

  1. Linda
    December 18, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    This budget is a disgraceful attack on the poor and low paid workers! I am one of those public service workers earning less than 30,000 a yr. I was working part time up until five years ago when I was asked to take on a full time position. I knew at that time that I would be worse of by going full time but I gave up all my benefits in a bid to improve my situation in the long term. Now with the cuts and levies I have pretty much been knocked back down to where I was five years ago. I am slightly over the limit for FIS and therefore my Child Benefit will also be cut.

    This Goverment should be ashamed of themselves, taking the Christmas bonus of parents who depend on it to see their children have presents under the tree on Christmas morning and a proper Christmas dinner on the table without having to pay for it by leaving the heating off for an extra month or turning to loan sharks and spiralling into debt.

    I don’t understand how they can sleep at night while the gap between rich and poor widens and widens and widens! They are totally corrupt and have got to go!

    Linda Burgess.

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