Childcare, Austerity and The State: Comment

I left this comment on Gordon Jeyes’s piece in today’s Irish Times, which is titled ‘How I plan to reform our deficient childcare system’. Jeyes is the chief executive-designate of the Child and Family Agency.

No-one, especially not those of groups known to kiss babies for photo ops, is ever going to admit they are against welfare and growth of children. But the Prime Time report has opened up a crack that reveals Irish society still has warped priorities when it comes to children, with brutal consequences for children themselves.

The author is right that the State should not be seen as the solution. But we have to be careful about what we understand by the State. For too long, religious conservatives and wealthy business owners (who are often one and the same) have shaped public conceptions about the State. In the imaginary of the religious conservative, when it comes to health or education or social services, it appears as a totalitarian, all-devouring bureaucratic monster that annihilates humanity. This is always in contrast with the loving embrace of the heterosexual two-parent family and the Church to which it ought to belong.  In the imaginary created by wealthy business owners, the State is associated with inefficiency, waste, and indolent public servants. For good reason: services that could be provided by the State are potentially rich seams of profit for private investors.

And it is also true that the State currently guarantees a right to profit over and above the right of children to a decent standard of care and education. However, we should take care not to confuse the State with what is public, what belongs to everyone, the basic elements of a democratic society: common goods such as health and education and water.

The current austerity regime, which the author rightly criticises, seeks to strip the State of its capacity to provide such goods, to marketise them in the interests of profit. The catastrophic consequences of such a regime can be seen in defenceless children getting slammed to the floor like throwaway objects, their basic rights grossly violated.

A commitment to democracy means standing against such a regime, in defence of what is public and common to all. A meaningful public debate under such circumstances can only ever come about, at an absolute minimum, through the presence of the public on the streets in mass demonstrations.

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