herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Will this budget help mums sleep at night? Well that's the question...

My son came home from school the other day and informed me that the recession was over. How did he know this for sure? Because rumour had it that Disneyland brochures had been spotted in another child's house.

"Mum, can we finally 'say yes' too?" he asked, mimicking the exact tag line from the TV ad that makes embattled parents everywhere want to tear their hair out.

I told him that the playground story probably wasn't even true. Who has spare cash for an expensive theme park trip? But then, the very next day, I heard on the radio that bookings in New York hotels are on the increase.

Apparently, Irish people are once again flocking to the Big Apple in their droves to stock up on 'essentials' from the outlet stores.

To top it off, I read that car sales are the best they've been in years as a lucky few upgrade to new, more luxurious models.

I was baffled. Maybe my 11-year-old was on to something. Maybe the dark days are finally over and people are starting to flash the cash like they used to during the Celtic Tiger era.

Fancy

The only problem with this theory is that I don't actually know anyone who can afford to buy a fancy new car or jet off on a five-star break, and the first non-austerity Budget in years won't change that.

Yes, a five euro increase in child benefit is welcome, but it certainly won't change the day-to-day circumstances of most parents at the school gate. On the ground, everyone will continue to do what they've done since the sky fell in a few years ago - try their level best to keep their heads above water.

These families don't go on expensive holidays to Disneyland or take shopping trips to New York, they do cheap-as-chips staycations instead. They might fantasise about splashing out on a new car, but the grim reality is that they're terrified that the banger they already have won't pass the next NCT and they'll have to conjure up cash from thin air to get it fixed.

They worry because the washing machine is making a funny noise and if it finally dies then they're up the creek without a paddle. They shop in cut-price supermarkets and pray that little Johnny's feet won't grow another shoe size until next month.

They hope that the school won't suggest some ridiculously expensive overseas tour. They're overcome with panic when they're reminded that little Johnny won't be little for long and college fees will have to be found from somewhere. They're weighed down with the fear of what could happen if they or their partner lost their job.

They read studies that say they should have at least six months' worth of savings put aside for a rainy day and they feel sick to their stomachs.

Despair

They wonder if they should risk cancelling the health insurance, if they have any. They delay putting on the heating. They despair that they'll ever pay off the mortgage on the badly-built shoebox they bought at the height of the boom.

They try to ignore the stack of bills on the kitchen table and lie awake at night fretting that the water charges will be the straw that finally breaks the camel's back, even with a tax rebate.

These are the same parents who will scour Budget 2015 for a glimmer of hope that will make their lives, and the lives of their children, just a little easier. They pray that the green shoots of recovery are starting to grow, while knowing in their hearts that they still won't be able to finally 'say yes' to that theme park trip. But then they don't necessarily want an extravagant holiday. All they really want is to be able to exhale for the first time in years and sleep easier at night.

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