It is appropriate that we should be debating this aspect of Fianna Fáil's budget on the eve of International Women's Day. It is important that the Minister should appreciate that the tax penalty or additional tax that will be paid by married couples where one or other spouse chooses to remain at home and care for children or an elderly relative amounts to €6,240. If a married couple decide that one spouse should remain at home, there are two penalties. The allowance for a married couple where both spouses are working is €68,000. For a single income couple, the allowance is €43,000. The latter couple must, therefore, pay a tax penalty of just over €5,000. As in previous budgets, the Minister has again widened the gap. This process began in 2000 with his predecessor, Charlie McCreevy. The amendment suggests that a home carer's credit of €770 be put in place. This compares with a PAYE tax credit of €1,760. Single income couples are obliged, therefore, to pay extra tax to the tune of €990 if one spouse remains at home to care for children, a disabled person or an elderly relative. In this regard, the Government is practising political correctness gone wrong. We all live complex lives. As I stated, it is the eve of International Women's Day. I am delighted to be the first spokesperson on finance to raise an issue which particularly concerns women because women still form the overwhelming majority of carers. However, women have diverse lives. I am a Deputy, I am an accountant, I used be a lecturer, I used to work in Africa on development programmes, but I am also a mother and I had responsibility for my father before he died. My life, like that of many women and quite a number of men is a patchwork of different responsibilities at different stages.
When the feminist movement started in America the book that became famous, and in many ways launched it, was by a woman called Betty Friedan. She started the book with the words "Is this all?". In America of the 1960s where she had the house, the home, the two children, the husband, the car and money, she asked "Is this all?" and wrote that she wanted to take part in the workforce and be out in the world of business, politics and commerce. If the women's movement is about anything, it is the right of women to have at different stages in their lives the choices that reflect their different interests and commitments. Let us be clear about this issue. For the vast majority of women that includes, for some time or for years — forever in some cases — a commitment to caring for children in the home and caring for relatives. As I stated, it is also the commitment of a significant, and growing, number of men.
Since caring is not monetarised in our economy, it has no economic value for the State. There is an element of political correctness gone wrong in what this says to a young family. As I stated to the Minister previously, the problem does not arise when the first baby is born because often people can cope. They can afford the €200 a week in crèche fees for one child and get him or her out to a child minder or a crèche at half past seven in the morning, commute to work, come back at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock to collect the baby and then settle down for the evening. The difficulty arises when people have two or three children, particularly if, because of our astronomical house prices, they work in the Dublin area but live as far away as, for example, Tullamore in the Minister's constituency, Kinnegad or Enniscorthy. There are large numbers of people now living in the greater Dublin region and the Leinster region who are commuting to jobs in the Dublin area. When such a family has two or three children, how will they afford to pay €600 a week in child care — crèche fees, after-school services and pre-school services? A person would need to earn double the average industrial wage of approximately €34,000, which, incidentally, most women do not earn, to pay the cost of all the child care that would enable the person to work full-time.
One of the benefits of the partnership process has been bringing forward arrangements that allow public servants to take various amounts of time off in recognition of their caring duties. However, by and large, the private sector does not acknowledge this development. There is an absolute ceiling for women in the private sector. Employers are fools to believe that if a woman starts her working life at 20 years of age and retires aged 60 or 65, it amounts potentially to a productive working life of between 40 and 45 years. Many employers will not acknowledge that for five to ten years of that period many women will be heavily involved with the care of a child or children and for many people some of the period will involve the care of elderly relatives. If taking parental leave was compulsory for men and if in our firms of solicitors and accountants the men who have children also had to take a little time out, which many men would welcome, we would see a revolution in employers' attitudes.
On Second Stage, the Minister responded by stating that I was decrying the effect of individualisation. I was doing so. My party has put forward detailed recommendations for a commission on taxation to look on a rolling basis at these issues in the tax system. Perhaps when Charlie McCreevy brought in individualisation, as the Minister stated in his reply, the weakness of our income tax system at that time was how heavily it bore on single people because in order to improve their position we had to give double increases to married one-earners and this used up scarce tax resources. People might say that the Minister's predecessor had a point in terms of debating tax policy for 2000, but this is 2007. Following seven years of much prosperity, the extra tax the married one-earner must shell out if he or she earns over €68,000 is now €6,000, which is a significant penalty.
The Minister further stated on Second Stage that if we want to go back on individualised tax bands, we will inevitably raise the relative burden on single earners for a given amount of tax relief and while he accepts that people may make life choices at different times in their lives, he is not sure if we can turn the clock back at this stage. It harks back to the Maggie Thatcher question — are we living in a society or in an economy? I live in a society. I want women and their partners or husbands not only to have children, but to have the time to enjoy being with and raising their families. We have heard the example of one of our scarce female colleagues in this House. Approximately one third of the Labour Party's parliamentary representation is female. The Progressive Democrats' female representation is approximately the same. Of the other parties, the Greens and Sinn Féin have no female Members and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have a couple of female Members each. This is a woman-free zone, to all intents and purposes, as regards modern Ireland.
I am not saying the answer is easy, but the proposal being put to the Minister is a start. In that regard, there are two principles. The first is that he should not make the gap any bigger, which he has been doing without thinking about it and without realising the impact on women and on families with children.
Second, why not just raise the income tax credit for home carers? It has been frozen since it was introduced. That should be done. The Minister will possibly address it in his party's election manifesto. It should be in this Finance Bill, not saved up as an election goody.
The strains on families are enormous. The worst part of all of this shows again how fossilised thinking on taxation becomes when it is caught in that rarefied group of social partnership. Social partnership does not involve the Opposition in the Dáil.