The cold winds of division are blowing. We’re at each other’s throats again. It’s unfortunate because this was a summer of quite a few shared group experiences. In early June the country united in shock when Sylvia Plath failed to appear on the English Paper 2, thus discommoding thousands of students. That shock was swiftly forgotten, when as a country we basked in the euphoria and hope in the lead-up to the European Championships. Then we watched goal after goal ping, skitter, whump and aw-come-on! past Shay Given and again together we shared the despair, rage and a sort of dull existential angst that Sylvia Plath would have loved.
We parted briefly to go on holidays in the rain but the Olympics drew us close once more. Katie Taylor – aided controversially by God and Jesus – was slapping nice English girls, uppity Tazhiks and cranky Russians around the place. “GOWANDEREKATIEBATETHEHEADOFFHER!” was the roar of a nation.
Perhaps the most beautiful group moment of the Summer was the Paralympics. Here were men and women with missing limbs, various palsies and other whatnots that you couldn’t ignore when you first tuned in. But after a while you stopped staring and just watched the sport. And it was far more fascinating than a lot of the Prelympics (as the Olympics should be called now).
But now Lympics villages are packed up, the government is back and the division bell has been rung. They’ve been sneakily sowing the seeds with their budgetary kites over the last few weeks. You may have seen one if it landed in your garden, snagged in a hedge. There was a little note attached saying “You’d wanna see what them other lads are getting”.
In the past few days, we were up in arms about the Allowances. This suits the government fine. Let the public and private sector be sniping away at each other while, in the background, fellas in stripey jumpers and black eye masks are sneaking away carrying bags marked “Swag”.
Apparently there’s over 800 of these stipends and the government said they were going to get tough on them and save €75million. Instead they saved about €3.5million having found one allowance to cut. It reminds you of that scene in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian where the Romans are searching the Matthias’ house looking for the People’s Front of Judea. Despite the fact that the house has only one room and all the PFJ are hiding behind curtains, under tables and one just has a blanket on his head, the Romans find nothing. They troop out but realise that there’s one place they haven’t looked. They search the house again and emerge triumphantly – with a spoon.
When you read through the business cases it’s easy to see why the government backed down. Time after time the “Why should we keep it?” question is answered with “Otherwise there’ll be trouble!”
In fact if I was one of the civil servants who were the only ones to suffer a cut, I’d be wondering who was the ludraman who wrote the business case for that?
It doesn’t help that some of these payments have names that are a little odd: There’s an Acting Up, Boxmaking and Paperkeeper Allowance – Who qualifies for these? Bosco?
Sorry, that’s unfair, one can make glib statements about silly names 'til the cows come home. These jobs have often moved on a bit from their titles. And no doubt, this farrago will be used again to tar everyone in the public service with the same brush That’s unwarranted because, not by a long chalk does every clerical or frontline civil servant get these extras. Secondly, if you are a low-paid civil servant, a cut is a cut and it doesn’t matter what it was called. It’s hard to take. Thirdly, because so many of the business cases are so sparsely written, we don’t even know how much each one costs. (Sample Question. “Does this allowance represent value for money?” Sample Answer. “Yes” – End of answer)
In fact if I were looking for places to cut, I would start focussing on some of the people who wrote the business cases and seeing what allowances they were on.
Neatly right down the middle, public and private are once again split and the issue will just be lost in a haze of mutual crankiness that does no one any good. Maybe just once we could keep a clear head and ask that the exercise be repeated and this time find out how much each one costs and ask if at all possible, pretty please, could some of the rates be cut? Even just by a bit?
And in the longer term we need to plan our allowances to avoid this schism between public and private. The watchword will be unity - That’s why I propose a new form of allowances that everyone can claim in future –that are designed to ameliorate the effects of some of the more annoying aspects of work and general life that we all experience.
So in a brave new world, say goodbye to the Acting Up, Eating on Site and Yard Allowance and say hello to Smelly Colleague, Papercut, Mouth Ulcer, Catching Your Sleeve In A Door Handle and Painful Hangnail Payments.
We’ll get through this – together.