Budget 2016 was hailed as a family friendly budget, and welcomed broadly by most people and families as it was presented as being the Budget that was going to give back to working families and the squeezed middle. However, now that the dust has settled and the calculations have ceased, it is arguable that the government has missed an opportunity to maximise impact. It may have been family friendly, but it wasn’t family focused. And this is where the potential for real change lies.
Childcare is the main issue that affects working families and the cost of childcare together with poor regulation is an issue that was expected to be dealt with. The government have given us the extra ECCE Pre -school year, but in reality what impact will three hours a day for 35 weeks of the year make to anyone paying full time childcare costs? More measures were needed here to lift the burden of childcare costs on working parents. Tax relief or a tax credit would have been a more practical option, giving flexibility with immediate impact on household budgets.
Despite increases in investment in education, the government still have not reversed fully the cuts to disability education services introduced in 2009. There was also a chance to help parents in a practical way with some assistance with back to school/returning to school costs. We are touching 500 euro with starting school in September, simple measures such as a national book rental scheme or tax relief on school uniforms would go a long way to dig parents out.
Looking at the increases in child benefit in context, five euro will get you a half a tub of formula, barely a packet of nappies or three packets of wipes. Given the years of budget cutbacks, we will take it, but we won’t be jumping up and down, so please don’t expect us to. The big plus was the two weeks of paternity leave, a long overdue entitlement for dads, and the high point of the budget for many. The extension of the GP visit card to under 12’s is good news, but I would have greater confidence of its implementation if the Irish Medical Organisation hadn’t been so surprised at its inclusion in the Budget.
The government could have acted in a greater number of areas to solidify its commitment to families and children but they missed in a few areas. Perhaps it was the excitement of having money to spend, or the prospect of giving something back to the electorate but the government have limited their success in this budget by not thinking in the long term and engaging with the issues that affect families.