Child benefit 'an important principle'
Keeping Child Benefit as a universal payment was “a very important principle,” academics and groups representing women and parents have said.
Minister of State for Health, Kathleen Lynch said, however, retention or not of the universality principle was something that would have to be “considered”.
Responding to the proposal from the International Monetary Fund that the benefit should be means-tested, One Family - which supports lone parents - said a portion of the payment should be kept as universal, with a remainder, top-up portion means-tested.
Stuart Duffin, manager of the charity’s welfare to work section, said the Government must guarantee families who depend on the support would not lose out.
The National Women’s Council of Ireland also said the universality of the payment was “really important”.
Orla O’Connor, acting chief executive of the council, said the fact that the payment was made to all mothers meant it was the payment that recognised the care-work down by all these women, regardless of class.
“There is also an assumption that there is equal distribution of income within households, but without data on income distribution within households we simply don’t know that, and this is the only payment that is for every child in the State.”
The Society of St Vincent de Paul said it could only countenance consider changes to Child Benefit in the context of clear proposals on how supports to low and middle-income families would be provided to protect them from poverty and social exclusion.
The Family Resource Centre National Forum said a means-test would be a “very blunt instrument”.
“A more progressive and targeted approach to reducing Exchequer spend on Child Benefit would be the application of taxation. This way, the universality of the payment would remain intact; however, those most in need of the payment – including unemployed people and low-paid families – would still continue to receive it.”
Dr Mary Murphy, of the Department of Sociology in NUI Maynooth and who has an expertise on welfare distribution, said Child Benefit did need to be “better targeted, but not means tested”.
“Maintaining the principle of universality of child benefit is very important,” she said. It was a means of maintaining social solidarity, which was under increasing pressure.
“If you make universal welfare payments means-tested you separate out the poor and benefit recipients from the rest of society. Universality keeps the connection between people, and Child Benefit is recognition of women’s role in childcare.
“It is also a recognition that people who have children genuinely do society some service and there are higher costs associated with having children, no matter who you are.”
She said there were ways of better targeting it, including having a reduced, universal payment alongside a means-tested second-tier payment.
Ms Lynch, when asked today about the universality of some welfare payments, said:
“I think that if we’re talking about a universal benefit then that’s something that would have to be given close consideration.”