Breda O’Brien on Irish social policy’s bias against mothers

– Irish social policy assumes all women want to work even when they have children
– In fact, most mothers want to spend as much time with their children as possible
– Tax individualisation acts counter to the wishes of most Irish mothers

Irish social policy has been shaped by a number of myths regarding women and work. For example, it is assumed that all modern, educated women aspire to full-time careers outside the home even when they have children, and that the state must provide heavily subsidised childcare to facilitate this desire.

In fact, most women with children want to spend as much time as possible with them, and when they need childcare, favour care by relatives or other people that they know. Despite this, the taxation system continues to penalise families where one spouse, usually the mother, chooses to stay at home. For example, following Budget 2011, a married couple with dependent children and one income of €60,000 per annum will pay €5,600 more in tax each year than a double-income married couple where the spouses earn €30,000 each. However, it is not just tax individualisation that is the problem, but a range of underlying assumptions that underpin public policy and continue to ignore the evidence regarding what women really want for themselves and their families.  This is short-sighted and ultimately counter-productive, in the light of what we know about the needs of children and the demographic challenges facing Europe.

All tax policies influence the way people behave, because they change incentives.  Taxes on families are no exception.”