Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019

Sinead Ryan: 'No rise in child benefit and little comfort to be found in small, indirect measures'

Paschal Donohoe wasn’t inclined to give direct payments to parents this year, either in the form of increased Child Benefit (which benefits everyone, irrespective of need), or help toward eye-wateringly expensive childcare by way of a tax break. Instead, the gifts came small and indirectly.

Health

Under-sixes will get their baby teeth examined for free while sickly under-eights can be brought to the GP for nothing, but only from next September.

Some parents might take the line that it’s teenagers with wonky orthodontics who would benefit more than the pre-schoolers but they’ll take anything they can get to minimise the cost of child-rearing.

Whether GPs or dentists are happy isn’t clear; certainly the latter seemed to be caught unawares. Medicines will be cheaper thanks to a reduction in prescription charges, and a capping at €114 for the Drugs Payment Scheme.

Wider measures

Tusla is to get an extra €29.4m as part of a €94m package allocated to the Department of Children, which may help toward the chronically long waiting lists for social workers for vulnerable kids.

Katherine Zappone, who has done so well in previous budgets, gets €54m toward ongoing early learning spending, including the childcare services, ECCE and AIM schemes which many families in difficulty benefit from. Detractors will point out that this represents a spend to stand still, rather than extra investment.

Homelessness

With 10,000 homeless, a third of them children, it was surely incumbent on this Government to present measures to alleviate the situation, which has been getting worse. Not so.

While budget increases were made toward the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and funding emergency accommodation, this money will primarily be funnelled to landlords and hotels.

Stay-at-homes

The home carers tax credit is being increased to €1,600; this applies to all stay-at-home parents minding children and is often left unclaimed.

Education

Every September a row breaks out over school transport with poignant images of children stranded at the side of the road while the kids down the road head off on the school bus.

Some €26m is being allocated to school transport which will go no way whatsoever to fixing the problem.

Once they get to school though, the 1,000 planned SNAs will help sort out some of the gaps in learning supports. The promise brings to 17,000 the number employed in this vital service, while 400 special education teachers are in the pipeline. Quite how many simply replace those retiring or leaving is unclear.

Adult kids

The taxpayer-sponsored protection of inheritances continues with the adult to child (Class A) tax free threshold on gifts and inheritances increasing by €15,000, apparently at Shane Ross’s insistence, to €335,000, which should please the larger home-owning residents in his leafy constituency.

Climate

Whatever about direct or indirect payments made toward helping families with children, perhaps the biggest improvement came outside of the usual departments. The hefty carbon taxes, stringent emissions targets and moves toward halting the horrific effects of climate change will, perhaps, in years to come be seen as the most child-friendly aspect of Budget 2020.

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