Plan to link child benefit with school attendance slammed

Proposals by the new government to link child benefit payments to school attendance have been met with strong criticism by campaign groups.

The radical plans have yet to be approved by the Department of Social Protection and are only being reviewed by its new minister, Leo Varadkar.

However, the Children’s Rights Alliance reacted with dismay at the proposals which are in the Programme for Government.

The Irish Examiner understands the proposals were agreed, after strong lobbying by newly appointed Minister for Communications Denis Naughten during the Government formation talks.

If introduced, the changes would see families penalised and deducted state benefit if their child or children were unable to attend school.

Addressing the proposals, the programme for government says: “We will reform the monitoring of child benefit payments by amalgamating the two existing school attendance monitoring systems, currently run by the Department of Education and Tusla, to address poor attendance within some families.”

Reacting to the proposals, children’s rights alliance CEO Tanya Ward warned that principals could potentially decide who does or does not get benefit payments:

Tanya Ward
Tanya Ward

“This is a daft proposal that would seriously undermine the rights of children. Child Benefit is a universal payment designed to help families with the cost of caring for their children. It should in no way be used as a tool to punish parents and families. In practice, it would indirectly lead to school principals actually making decisions on who gets child benefit.”

Mr Varadkar said he was “still working through” the new programme and “scoping out its implications” for his new department.

Government sources though have confirmed that fellow Cabinet member, Denis Naughten, had pushed for the benefit reforms during the government formation talks.

While the Independent TD ultimately took another portfolio, the Roscommon-Galway TD has for years advocated linking benefit payments to school attendance.

Mr Naughten has said changing the system would save €50m partially by removing the need to pay €13m annually to children not resident in Ireland and would also clamp down on fraud.

The Programme for Government contains key priorities for the Government which include the establishment of a rural broadband taskforce and the reactivation of a national treatment purchase fund to reduce hospital waiting lists.

A reduction in the number of patients waiting longer than six hours in emergency department from 32% to less than 7% by 2021 is one of the stated aims of the programme. These include reforming the HSE into “a more efficient and transparent service”, as well as implementing a national obesity plan.

The document commits to creating 200,000 jobs by 2020 and increasing spending on public services by at least €6.75bn by 2021. It also says the Government will aim to “meet the target of building 25,000 new homes needed every year by 2020.”


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