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[For an audio/vlog version of this story, click here.]
‘I wish to reply to the opinions of Brendan Corrigan (Letters, 9 October) where he gave his rather right-wing views on child benefit being means-tested.
I have to say that I found Mr Corrigan’s views quite worrying. It is obvious to me that he lacks any insight into the world of bringing up children in this State.’
Thus ran the opening lines of the riposte by a Mr Liam Muldowney to my October 2010 letter in the Irish Independent calling for Ireland’s child benefit allowance to be means tested. (My letter is at
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/letters/time-to-means-test-child-benefit/26688058.html. Mr Muldowney’s reply in full can be found at https://www.independent.ie/opinion/letters/families-already-being-put-to-the-test/26689397.html.)
Mr Muldowney was not wholly wrong to state that I ‘lack insight into the world of bringing up children’ in Ireland. Observing from the sidelines is nothing like actually becoming a caring parent — brief encounters with young nieces and nephews have given me just a taste of the challenges involved.
I also agree that some parents in the country have come to rely on Child Benefit to help buy essentials for their offspring.
My argument at the time — and this remains so — was that another cohort of parents didn’t really need this government assistance. For sure, it’s nice to get it, but it’s not crucial for the survival of the family.
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any Irish government would suggest changing the status quo. Scrapping the benefit for certain parents who are deemed to be high earners but in reality may be rather hard-pressed — relative as that is — would surely be a vote loser.
The least politically toxic way to deal with it would be to set up a mechanism where it could be returned to the state’s coffers voluntarily. Window dressing to suit all tastes that. (For more on Ireland’s Child Benefit, see https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/social-welfare/social-welfare-payments/families-and-children/child-benefit/)
Now, I’ve recalled this 13-year-old letter debate in a bid to preempt any claims of hypocrisy on my part.
No, I’m not in receipt of child benefit (Ireland’s welfare system may be rather generous but it’s not yet a complete free-for-all where childless individuals can claim financial support for kids they don’t have or care for — at least I think not, anyway).
I’m bringing up my old ‘right-wing’, raw-capitalism opinions because I am now, to use the old expression, an Irish government artist. Yes, I have been granted jobseeker’s allowance here in my birth country while I ponder and plot my next move.
In my defence, my application was submitted by as close to happenstance as such a procedure can — I know, I know, I didn’t accidentally fill out the forms!
What I mean, is that I was at the welfare office to get a Public Services Card, a prerequisite to do pretty much anything in Ireland Inc. these days.
‘The natural progression for a nanny state is to become more like an overbearing mother. It wants to control all aspects of its citizens’ lives.’
A long-standing friend in my village had suggested I look for jobseeker’s allowance and although I shrugged it off at the time, whilst in the welfare office applying for my Public Services Card I merely asked the woman attending me about this unemployment assistance.
Without asking me if I actually wanted to apply for it, she gave me the forms I needed for an application — namely the Jobseeker’s Allowance/Benefit form itself and a Habitual Residence Condition form. The latter was required because I hadn’t resided in Ireland over the last two years (make that five since I last visited).
So I filled out these forms with a see-what-happens mindset. Two working days later, I get a letter informing me that my application has been approved.
Most people I speak to here in Ireland, on seeing my slight unease at having been granted this assistance, ask the loaded question, ‘Sure aren’t you entitled to it?’
Well, clearly I am, officially. At present, I am unemployed, I continue to seek work, my savings in euro terms are minimal and I don’t own property nor do I have any assets of note or significant financial investments.
And the way Welfare Ireland operates, one risks being disadvantaged in the future for not applying for a benefit one may be entitled to. Or, better said, disadvantaged for not applying for benefits one most likely would be granted.
By disadvantaged here I refer, for one, to the possibility of being asked to account for the times when you had no income yet didn’t seek state aid.
China in our hands
This is how what some call the Nanny State functions.
My unease with it all — alleviated as it is somewhat by the yet-to-be-issued recompense — is that I’m playing along with a system about which I have many misgivings.
You see, the natural evolution of a nanny state is in reverse to humanity. Unlike a human grandmother, the nanny state doesn’t become mellower and eventually die.
No, the natural progression for a nanny state is to become more like an overbearing mother. It wants to control all aspects of its citizens’ lives.
An authoritarian takeover this is not. In many ways, it’s more pernicious than that. It’s the gradual removal of one’s independence handout after handout, health and safety legislation after health and safety legislation.
‘We’re doing this for your own protection, little ones.’ Quite. One may feel safer and better looked after but this comes at the price of one’s independence, individually as well as at family and community level.
Ideally, the state should be like a god, but one that can actually physically intervene where necessary. It should work to enhance the conditions for life’s essentials and offer some comfort at times but it shouldn’t get directly involved in the day-to-day running of one’s affairs.
In much of the West, what we have now, however, is an Overbearing Mother Society.
With that, we’re closer to the Chinese model than many care to believe.
In finishing this piece, I came across a lengthy article by N.S. Lyons titled The China Convergence. In it, he refers to ‘techno-administrative governance’, my version of the Overbearing Mother Society it could be said. That detailed and insightful, if worrying piece is available at https://theupheaval.substack.com/p/the-china-convergence.
Listen to The Corrigan Cast podcast here.