So, the general election is two days away. Politics is not our main focus at the Minimise Project, so we haven’t written as much directly about the election as we might have.
But there are still meaningful and useful things that are worth doing in the political arena. Just because macro-level legisaltion recognising human equality is impossible in the short term, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t pro-life policies that are still worth campaigning for.
The purpose of this blog post is to highlight what is, for this author’s money, one of the cleverest bits of pro-life policymaking proposed in this election: the proposal by Aontú to pay child benefit (the monthly payment paid by the Irish government to families of €140 per child) starting from the 27th week of pregnancy.
Why is this proposal such a good idea? Well, first, any increase in child benefit makes the prospect of being a parent a bit easier for people. And there are a lot of upfront costs associated with having a new baby. So Fianna Fail, for instance, deserve some credit for proposing to double child benefit payment for the first month of a baby’s life – although only if it’s the mother’s first child.
But that’s still not early enough. At the moment the child benefit payment of €140 a month is paid only when a child is born, and then only when the next calendar month rolls around. If you have a baby on the second of February, you don’t get child benefit until the first Tuesday in March.
This is inconvenient for parents. There are a lot of expenses associated with a newborn: setting up rooms, getting supplies, purchasing equipment like buggies, thermometers and baby baths, buying clothes and towels for the baby and so on, and it would be good not to have to wait to get assistance for these until up to a month after birth. This is why I want to congratulate Aontú on their policy of starting to pay child benefit at 27 weeks gestation, resulting in three payments before birth (with the payments starting once a doctor signs a form at one of the medical examinations that are already free under the maternity scheme). And as their platform points out, it’s especially important for families on the poverty line.
That platform also frames the policy as a recognition that “that the child before birth is still one of us.” It’s worth quoting it at length:
As a party that believes in the right to life of everyone, Aontú believes this should be reflected in our taxation and social welfare policies, and that we should make life easier for anyone on this island looking to have and raise a child. We believe in finding innovative policy solutions that can create new coalitions and change the way people approach the issue of human equality.
This is pretty great. Aontú deserves kudos for it, and after the election it’s a proposal that other parties would do well to consider. This is a pro-life policy that should be endorseable by everyone: treating the pre-born child as a child for child benefit purposes is both more egalitarian and more convenient. It just makes sense.
The only potential downside I can see is the potential to cause more grief to parents who lose their children through miscarriage or stillbirth. The prospect of a parent in this situation having to sign some kind of form certifying that their child had died is awful. This could be pretty easily avoided: if the child’s birth hasn’t been registered within 20 weeks of the payment starting then payment of child benefit would be automatically halted. Of course, this wouldn’t affect any benefit paid already, any more than the death of a born child would.
I’d urge other parties to adopt this policy. The election is nearly here now so there’s no realistic prospect of other parties getting on board with Aontú’s proposal. But in the long run, a policy that puts more money into parents’ pockets, and sooner, is likely to be a political winner. After Saturday, why not call up your newly elected representatives and tell them about this idea?