Sarah McCarthy writes about the scandal that has raged this week about banks possibly forcing parents to give up their jobs.

There has been a good deal of uproar this week about the soon to be published Personal Insolvency Service guidelines. The controversy has centred around the possibility that parents whose incomes is less than the cost of their family’s childcare will be forced to quit their jobs.

What Happened?

These guidelines will apply to those who are no longer able to make their mortgage payments and seek to enter into negotiations with the bank. Under the guidelines, lenders will be able to impose restrictions on what customers spend their money on, and how much they spend. These agreements will be facilitated by state-appointed mediators.

The first step of the process will be an estimation of what a person/couple/family needs to spend on “reasonable living expenses”. They will be allowed this figure but must then forego any luxuries. These “luxuries” include a car (in some cases), health insurance and for some, childcare. Specifically, the guidelines state:

 “Where a person is working and paying for childcare as a consequence of his or her employment, the cost of childcare should not exceed the income from the employment.”

Somehow, in a wonderful leap of sexist ideology, this story became about how “Mothers” were going to be forced by the banks to give up their jobs. Then, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar decided to weigh in with this gem of a response:

 “I know one or two women […] who probably don’t make very much money at all from working but they do it to keep their position on the career ladder, if you like.”

“Was I Not Supposed to Say That?”

Well, that’s okay Leo, I’m guessing anyone you know doesn’t actually pay their debts anyway. Following this thoughtful input Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn decided to dig the Cabinet’s hole a little deeper, and stated that some working women will have to choose between their careers and paying the mortgage if they enter into the insolvency regime.

After which Enda, who seems to be the only one to realise that women actually have the vote these days, came out to assure us all that nothing of the sort would be happening. In some surprisingly reasonable remarks he stated:

“People have a right to work; people have a right to earn money, to raise their families in the best way possible.”

However, he has not said that the guideline will be removed, so we’ll take his assurances with a pinch of salt for now. Varadkar has since apologised for his comments, sort of. He said he was sorry if he said anything that contradicted the Taoiseach.

The Sexism, Oh the Sexism!

You’ll note that the guidelines quite nicely include both binary genders. And yet as soon as they were released, every (male) journalist and politician was discussing how “women” and “mothers” might be forced to give up their jobs (it’s only a silly hobby for them anyway!). They made the immediate presumption that it would be the woman of the house who a) earned less and b) would obviously be the one to stay back and mind the kids. Mind you, considering that the pay gap continues to widen with each year of austerity, and on average women are responsible for 86% of child supervision in this country, I suppose it’s probably an accurate assumption.

Of course the point that everyone seems to be missing in this story is the long-standing fact of our astronomical childcare costs. Nobody seems to be talking about how insane it is that it would ever be possible for a person to earn less per hour than they have to pay for childcare. In August an Irish Independent survey found that a crèche place for one child now costs more than the average home repayment, and in 2010 the OECD stated that the average family is paying 29% of their total income on childcare costs. This contrasts with countries like Germany where state provided services mean that families pay around 8%. Our childcare costs are amongst the highest in the EU and have long been a barrier to female participation in the workforce.

Considering we’ve known all this for years, you’d think the Government would follow our European neighbours and come up with a nice sensible solution like state childcare. Alas, they’ve done nothing but antagonise the situation with a blanket-cut to Child Benefit. And yet, if various Ministers’ statements are to be believed, it’s all our fault. Women on Welfare are lazy scroungers, while those of us who have the cheek to work are not taking responsibility for “our” debt. Makes sense.

What Luxuries Are Bankers Forgoing?

The other infuriating aspect to this story is the idea that the banks have the right to tell us to tighten our belts and cough up for our debts. We (the Taxpayers) have given the banks €69.7 Billion in bail-out money so far (there’s plenty more to come). That works out at around €15,534 per every person in the Republic. So a family with two parents and two children has given the banks around €62,136. You know what that would cover? Childcare costs for about three years. (Did I mention how expensive Childcare is?)

The audacity of the banks in forcing people to forgo health insurance is astounding. I wonder how many luxury holidays former AIB chief Eugene Sheehy’s annual €250,000 pension payments could pay for? In his comments on this story Varadkar said that the incoming scheme had to be fair to the 90% of people who are continuing to meet their debts. He stressed that many were making very big sacrifices in order to pay their bills – NO S**T SHERLOCK! I wonder if that has anything to do with the relentless austerity your Government is inflicting? Or the absolute insane state of affairs where taxpayers are expected to contribute thousands to bail out banks, then sacrifice any “luxuries” in their lives like health insurance and TV channels because they have to pay their own debt. Meanwhile, the speculators, bankers, and politicians continue to receive six-figure salaries, pensions, and bonuses? It’s absolute madness. It’s so blatantly, starkly unfair I don’t even know what else to say. The facts speak for themselves really.

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This story displays the immense amount of privilege that those in power have. Varadkar’s attitude shows a complete lack of respect for women, and completely negates the idea that they could possibly have something meaningful to contribute to society. And both Varadkar and Quinn feel that it’s completely justifiable to force a person to give up their career, for some people their main purpose and identity, because they have to pay back their debts. Debts that they are struggling to deal with because of severe austerity imposed on us all because of a financial crash most of us had nothing to do with. While the same banks they owe money to had everything to do with it and have literally gotten billions because they couldn’t pay theirs? It just boggles the mind. F**k Capitalism, F**k Patriarchy, let’s all have an Easter Egg and get rioting.