Budget 2013 Social Protection: Budget ‘targets children just one month after poll’

The Government was accused of issuing a rollercoaster budget hitting children and families only a month after the country voted to better protect children.

Several campaign groups raised concern about cuts to child benefit, school support, and back-to-education schemes.

Monthly child benefit payments will be reduced by €10 for the first and second children, €18 for the third, and €20 for the fourth and subsequent children from the beginning of next year. The changes will leave a family with three children €456 less off.

Payments for the first and second child will go down from €140 to €130, from €148 to €130 for the third child, and fall from €160 to €140 for the fourth and subsequent child.

Opposition parties pointed out that Labour had promised before the general election last year that child benefit would not be touched.

The Children’s Rights Alliance went further, questioning the cuts after the electorate voted to strengthen children’s rights in last month’s referendum.

The alliance questioned why savings from child benefit of €136m would only see €16.5m redirected into childcare places and education supports for disadvantaged areas.

The budget will also see cuts to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. This will be reduced by €50, from €150 to €100, for children aged between 4 and 11, and from €250 to €200 for those aged 12 to 17.

Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said: “How is this in the best interests of children? Each cut on its own is detrimental, but accumulatively these cuts are devastating to families. In its eagerness to finance a dead banking system, the Government is killing our future.”

The annual €300 back-to-education allowance paid to those in university or adults in secondary school is also being abolished, and will affect more than 26,000 people.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton defended her department’s savings in general, saying she was grateful that the Cabinet had not instead chosen reductions to welfare or dole payments.

She said there had been “agonising” discussions between Cabinet members on the budget and that expenditure for her department would reach €20.26bn next year.

Over €2bn of spending this year alone will go on child benefit and it therefore was impossible avoiding reductions in that area, said Ms Burton.

However, children’s support group Barnardos called the budget measures “regressive, unfair, and unsustainable”.

Chief executive Fergus Finlay questioned the blunt cuts to child benefit and the failure to reform payments instead.

“It is a blunt and brutal attack on family incomes with no sense of fairness or equity,” he said.

Next year will also see €6m being axed in emergency needs payments, which include funds given to low-income families for items such as Communion and Confirmation clothing as well as children’s buggies.

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