For another thing, I joined Twitter. This may or may not turn out to be a good idea. I don't have a fancy phone, so I'm only updating it from my computer, which I'm sure is Not The Point, but oh well. If you'd like to follow me, as I'm told people do over there, I'm @AwfullyChipper. I'll tweet a link to new blog posts, so it's another handy way to keep up to date. (Ooh, note to self: remember to do that.) Also, if you follow me, I'll follow you. Not in a stalkery way, of course.
But most importantly, there's a new logo over there --> proclaiming that I'm a proud member of the Irish Parenting Bloggers group. And so I am. If you're interested in reading some great Irish blogs, click Subscribe and we'll bring all the updates straight to you.
Right now, some of the group have come together to bloggily protest the proposed cuts to the Child Benefit allowance - so let me tell you what's going on with that. Currently, all Irish parents (/guardians/caregivers), regardless of income, are entitled to a certain amount monthly per child - in the same way that parents in the US receive tax relief for their children. The government of Ireland, as you might have heard, is somewhat strapped for cash right now, however, and they're proposing to take some of this benefit away to use it for something else.
At first glance, this seems pretty reasonable. From the US perspective, being paid for your children sounds somewhat - gasp! - socialist. Definitely liberal. Practically - excuse my French - French. Reducing the amount a bit, not taking it all away or anything like that, seems fair enough. Some people are saying it could be means-tested so only the people who really need it will get it.
Well. Lemme explain further. A lot of the election rhetoric in the US at the moment concerns the "squeezed" middle-income segment. The middle-income segment in Ireland is so squeezed right now that you could put it in a glass and call it lemonade. Very bitter lemonade with no sugar.
Now I've never been a parent in Ireland, so I don't really have a dog in this race. I left the country when times were still good, during the boom, before the bust had really got going. I didn't buy a house there, or even think about buying one, when the house prices were insanely high. I got laid off from my cushy IT-sector job, true, but I was planning to emigrate anyway and I got a nice little redundancy package, so that all worked out well. My memories of the children's allowance are of my mother buying me a pair of shoes, or maybe buying herself a pair of shoes, with it. I always thought of it as a nice extra, not something we needed.
But times have changed. Well-educated, fully employed, fiscally responsible adults with children in Ireland nowadays are often counting on that part of their income for more than just an extra pair of shoes. Maybe they're budgeting it for their children's only pair of shoes for the (cold, muddy, Irish) winter, along with their school uniforms and the exorbitantly priced schoolbooks. Maybe it's a vital component of their artificially inflated mortgage for the modest house they own in a regular neighbourhood. It might be the difference between a trip to the doctor and some antibiotics for a five-year-old with strep throat and just waiting it out with honey and lemon. It might just mean they can get dinner on the table every night and pay the electricity bill as well.
Here's the part of the blog post at The Clothesline that really shocked me:
My eldest daughter is on a waiting list for Occupational Therapy. Current waiting times 16 months. A private assessment costs €550. That is 4 months of child benefit I get for her. A private session of occupational therapy costs €80. Two a month and its over the amount of child benefit I receive per month. Our Health Insurance does not cover it.
My son was waiting 17 months for an out patients appointment to see an ENT. His appointment was in August. He was not examined. We queued and queued and saw a doctor who said he would bring my son in for a sleep clinic in the next few weeks. That was two months ago not a word from them since. He is also on a waiting list to see a Optomalogist. Current Waiting time 22 months. The cost to see a consultant privately – €180. We have seen two at the cost of two months of his Child Benefit payment.
My youngest daughter had a problem with her teeth. She was just shy of two. The HSE dentist said there was nothing they could do. Full stop. Nothing. I asked could we go privately. She said the cost would be in excess of €10,000 as we would need a surgical team. No cover from our Health Insurance. We managed to get her sorted through a different route. The doctors we saw kept telling us how lucky we were that they were seeing her. I don’t think we were lucky at all. I do not think you should have to fight and fight and fight to get a medical appointment for a child under two. A baby.
I always said we'd go home if we could. I always said we're not in the US for ever. But reading the stories I'm reading makes me wonder if we'd be crazy to consider it, even if we had the opportunity. It's slowly dawning on me that maybe this is still the land of opportunity, in many ways. Here in the US, with health insurance, I can take the kids to the doctor for $15 a go, so I take them whenever I'm feeling iffy about something. If I had to pay 50 or 60 euros a time (because Irish health insurance doesn't cover GP visits), that would be a different story.
My son is in public school here, but he has music, PE, and art two to three times a week, with dedicated teachers. He woudn't get those extras in an Irish national (public) school, I suspect. Here, his books are paid for and there's no uniform and no "voluntary contribution", though we do buy school supplies and volunteer for the PTA and contribute to fundraisers. Irish "free" schooling costs a whole lot more. (Though I should add that Irish private schooling doesn't reach the giddy heights of expense it does here either, at primary, secondary, or even university levels.)
If my children needed to be evaluated for speech or developmental delays, or to recieve early intervention therapy, it would happen quickly, and at least some of the services would be freely provided by the county. Not so in Ireland.
The cost of living in Ireland is high, due to its geographical isolation, the climate, the small size of the country, the government taxes on everything... Cars are expensive, gas/petrol costs a lot, you have to heat your house ten months of the year, and the weather's often crap. It's beautiful, the people are lovely, and it's home. When you live there, you just battle on, because you've no choice.
I've never been a parent in Ireland for longer than our annual trips home, which is why I'm not making an official contribution to the "blog march" against cutting the child benefit. But if you're one of my Irish readers, or you're interested, I encourage you to take a look at the posts linked there from the parents this is hitting. What I'm seeing from these bloggers is that the whole system in Ireland - health, education, finance - is broken, and the child benefit allowance is an easy target. The ordinary people of Ireland are pissed off, because the bankers made a mess of the whole economy and every year in the budget, they're made to pay for the fat cats' mistakes.
I have no solution to propose. If I was trying to balance a budget out of nothing at all, maybe this would look like the least bad place to get a few shillings - shillings to put back into something that needs it even more, like the healthcare system, that is.
But my heart hurts for my country and its people - its nice, ordinary, good people - who didn't do anything wrong but will have to pay, one way or another, again.