PARENTS could be facing cuts of up to 10% in child benefit payments in next week’s hairshirt budget.
The Cabinet will meet tonight in an attempt to finalise the €4bn package of savings, and social welfare payments are set for substantial cuts.
Speculation is mounting that child benefit could be cut by as much as 10%, which would reduce the monthly payment for one child from €166 to roughly €149.
“Up to Monday night, it had not been finalised, but that’s the way the wind was blowing,” a reliable Government source said.
An array of other social welfare payments are also in the firing line, with cuts of up to 5% mooted, although it’s thought the Government will avoid cutting the old-age pension.
Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was devoted almost entirely to the budget and ministers will meet at 6pm tonight in an effort to thrash out the final details. A Government spokesman said it could prove to be the final budget meeting, but stressed this wasn’t definite.
Citing a Cabinet source, TV3 reported it had agreed the 10% cut in child benefit.
Unemployment benefits for under-23s could be cut by as much as 20%, it said, while other social welfare payments could face cuts of up to 5%, with the exception of the state pension.
The Government is understood to be very reluctant to face the wrath of pensioners a second time following the medical card debacle in last October’s budget which sparked massive public protests.
Other predicted budget measures included increased emergency department & costs and a 50 cent charge for medical card prescriptions.
The Government spokesman said any advance reports on the budget’s contents were “speculation” and refused to discuss specific measures ahead of the document’s publication next Wednesday.
Similarly, spokespersons for the Departments of Finance and Social Affairs insisted that final decisions had not yet been taken. Speaking during a Dáil debate last night, Social Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin said the scale of savings required from public expenditure meant that “some reductions” would have to be made in the social welfare area.
“In that context, it is appropriate to look at the €2.5bn being spent this year on child benefit,” she said.
Almost 600,000 households receive child benefit in respect of 1.1m children.
Exchequer figures will outline the size of the gap between income and expenditure which the Government is facing in framing the budget.
Live Register figures are expected to show a slight increase in unemployment last month.
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