Concern over plans to cut child welfare

Anti-poverty campaigners have voiced concern about any reduction in child benefit in December’s budget.

Fianna Fáil also warned against any plans to radically alter the system following reports of proposals for a two-tier system of child benefit, along with a €40 cut to the flat child welfare rate.

The Department of Social Protection yesterday committed to publishing a report on tax and social welfare by an advisory group chaired by barrister Ita Mangan.

The group has advised that child benefit payments be cut to around €100 per child each month, according to RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. Such a change could claw back €200m a year for the exchequer.

Currently, child benefit is paid at €140 per child for the first two children, rising to €148 for the third, while €160 is paid for the fourth and subsequent children.

A statement from Joan Burton’s department said: “The report of the group’s examination of this issue is currently being considered by the minister. It is intended to publish this report in due course.”

The Irish Examiner reported on Oct 17 last year that the same group was considering a tax for child benefit that could recoup €300m for the department, but that a legal challenge could frustrate this.

The bill for child benefit is expected to be in the order of €2.1bn for nearly 600,000 families this year.

Child benefit was cut by €19 for the third child and €17 for the fourth and subsequent child last December. That budget also warned that child benefit payments would be standardised over the next two years.

Ms Burton must find €540m in savings next year.

Social Justice Ireland director Sean Healy said cuts to child benefit would be “unjust, unfair... unacceptable... and unnecessary”.

Labour backbench response was mixed. Joanna Tuffy of Dublin Mid–West said any cut would need to be made up elsewhere for families in need.

Kevin Humphreys said changes were needed “so that those earning large salaries are not receiving money from the State that they don’t need”.

Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea said: “A family with four children could see their payments cut by €160 a month, which could plunge already struggling families into more severe poverty.”

He added that families “should not have to live with this threat hanging over them for the coming months”.

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