It’s that time of the year when the Irish government indulges in the sport of kite-flying. Unlike Makar Sankranti, however, there’s little pleasant about the sport as played in Ireland.
Charged with the unenviable task of shearing millions from their budgets, the ministers of various departments ‘leak’ money-saving ideas to the media. Then – based on the reactions of citizens – they gauge whether or not the cuts they are proposing in these leaks will be easy to implement. If the public outcry is deafening, the minister will quietly shelve the ‘kite’.
Kite flying isn’t just for Ministers, though. Any TD can get in on the act by suggesting cost-cutting measures.
Today’s kite was even less well-thought out than they usually are. Independent TD Denis Naughten has suggested that the government could save millions by scrapping the Child Benefit Payment and, instead, introducing a ‘School Attendance Payment’.
On the face of it, it might seem like a good idea – put paid to truancy and stop the flow of money out of the country in the form of child benefit at the same time. The article in today’s Journal suggested that the European Commission might have a problem with any tampering with CB in order to deprive migrant workers of the payment.
I see a bigger problem with it, though. If you only pay child benefit to parents of children who attend school, you’re ignoring the fact that children don’t have to be sent to school in order to be compliant with the law in Ireland. Parents have a constitutional right, under Article 42, to educate their children where they see fit.
Of course, that could be circumvented by ‘allowing’ parents who register to homeschool to keep their Child Benefit payment. But – it can take a while to register and be approved. What are parents who rely on the payment to assist with household bills to do in the intervening months?
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Child Benefit is payable from when the month after a baby’s born. If the payment is to be linked to school attendance, and children don’t legally have to be in formal education until they are 6 – what happens to payments for the first six years? Are they to be abandoned? Or is Mr Naughten proposing that the payment be made for the first six years and then parents must re-apply? Can you imagine the chaos? The disruption? The upset to families who rely on the payments? Not to mention the extra administraion required?
Linking the payment to school attendance also means that home-schooling parents would lose out on child benefit – the same way they currently lose out on dental, optical and other health check-ups that are administered through schools.
Paying Child Benefit only to parents whose children attend school is one kite that simply won’t fly – no matter how much money it might potentially save.