The language of austerity

Apart completely from the regressive nature of the Budget measures – apart, that is, from the challenge to parents to get by with cuts in child benefit or back-to-school allowances; apart from the heartache from cuts to respite care or the struggle of young people to hang on in college with new demands on their families' incomes - apart from all of that, it's worth looking at the language in which the budget measures were presented. By Sheila Killian.

The property tax for instance is a "local" property tax, because local is inherently good. Never mind that any revenue going to the local authority will only free up central government funding, negating the local impact. The deferrals on property tax are "voluntary", even though they're only available if you actually can't afford to pay the tax. That's as voluntary as poverty. These are words chosen to market the tax, to make it palatable.

Then there is the language of justification, unevenly applied. Maternity benefit will be taxed, because this "will correct an anomaly so that women on maternity benefit pay the same level of tax as when they are working", but child benefit can't be taxed because, em, it just can't. So it's no anomaly to pay the same rate to wealthy parents as to struggling ones. There's the payslip illusion, whereby the government can say "no new income taxes" even with the carbon tax on coal, the euro on a bottle of wine, the increased car tax, college fees, prescriptions, property tax etc. There's the way Brendan Howlin's speech used "I" for the giveaways and "we" for the cuts. We have new rhetoric around the international respect given to our commitment to tax information exchange and the old familiar totemic reverence given to business taxes and the bond markets.

This is more than slant and spin. It matters because of what it reveals. The language is part marketing and part blindness. Measures that create real hardship are presented with a myopic focus on efficiency. This shows a technocratic focus that does not bode well for social cohesion, and a disregard for the social impact relative to the impact on investment. And social cohesion is what we very badly need now. The language used here does not give hope.