Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Bike2Work scheme

This week's INM regional column.

Michael Commane
Will the following two scenarios make you reconsider your way of thinking about things?
Take a husband and wife team with two young school-going children. They are both unemployed so they have to watch every cent they have.

They have no marketable qualifications. They live from day-to day, never with any spare cash for a rainy day. 

Suddenly something happens and they urgently need to find €1,000 somewhere. They have no option but to go to a loan shark. They manage to borrow the money but it’s at a price. They will have to repay the money at exorbitant interest rates.

Now take another couple, again with two young school-going children. But in the case of this couple both parents have jobs and they are not short a few bob. They are both paying the top rate of tax, which is 41 per cent. They decide they are going to start cycling to work so they avail of the Bike2Work Scheme.

They both work for the same company. They buy two new bicycles priced at €500 per bike. Their employer makes out two checks to the bicycle shop for €500 each and now they both have new bicycles. 

But because they are paying 41 per cent tax they will pay less than €590 for the bikes as PRSI and USC is also taken into account. The employer then deducts a sum every month from their salaries until they have paid for the bikes. 

It’s not just a free loan for €1,000, it’s a subsidised loan. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great scheme. It was introduced by the Green Party when they were in coalition with Fianna Fáil. It has brought thousands of extra bicycles out on to the roads. People are exercising. It’s great. I have availed of the scheme. It was and is a brilliant idea.

It’s just another example of the divide there is between those who have money and those who don’t.

Yes, people constantly berate the poor and less privileged, call them names, say they are lazy and are simply shy of work. Only in the last fortnight I heard a woman, indeed a knowledgeable woman, say that poor people can ‘earn’ more on the dole than at work.

There are no standard answers. There are no simple solutions to getting people out of poverty but that does not mean that we dare stop trying.

In the last few weeks there has been a lot of talk about equality. It’s something towards which we strive. But sometimes I’m inclined to think that when it comes to the social divide, both locally and indeed globally, equality doesn’t seem to appear on our radar.
I put up my hands straight away and say I have no answers. But still, I think it’s at our peril we lose our sensitivity for those who are weak and marginalised.

Imagine the outcry there would be if the Government announced they were going to give subsidised loans to the unemployed to buy bicycles.

Imagine if we all decided it makes no sense that one in seven of the world’s population have not enough food to eat.

There was a line in last Wednesday’s Gospel reading at Mass that went: “… whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant ...”

Or the lines on the plinth of the Jim Larkin statue in Dublin’s O’Connell Street:

“The great appear great because we are on our knees, let us rise.”

A fairer and more just society, where everyone is respected and cherished. We can never take our eye off the ball.

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