Further reform of child benefit due, says Coveney
Significant reform of child benefit will happen next year to ensure that wealthy families do not continue to get the same amount as those on low incomes, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said.
Mr Coveney said the Government had to introduce “a more equitable and fairer” system of child benefit payments, with taxation and means testing among the options under consideration. Child benefit was cut by €10 in the budget.
“I don’t think it’s right that somebody who’s on €200,000 gets the same child benefit payments for their children as someone who’s on €20,000. I don’t think [Minister for Social Protection] Joan Burton thinks that either . . . I think we will see significant reform in this sector,” he said.
“We as a Government now need to figure out a way of bringing about reform that is implementable and that doesn’t cost more to implement than the savings that we make from it, to have a more equitable and fairer child benefit system.”
In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney said “not everyone in Government agrees with me on this”. Some colleagues wanted to retain the status quo where the universal welfare payment is given to all families with children, regardless of financial circumstances.
“That is a perfectly valid view,” he said. “My view though happens to be that when a country is in the kind of pressure cooker that we’re in at the moment in terms of having to find savings and having to support vulnerable people at the same time that you have to focus the resources you have on the most vulnerable people.
“Therefore focus on the people who have the lowest income. I think that you will see – well, I expect you will see – change in this area for next year.”
He said his department had become one of the most successful in Government and one of only three to secure extra money in the budget. “And that is because the Government and the Cabinet are prioritising this sector,” he said.
“I can remember a time when the minister for agriculture was essentially seen as the minister for farming and it wasn’t a senior portfolio in government.
“It certainly wasn’t the sector that was referred to first by finance ministers when they gave their budget speeches, like last year and this year by Michael Noonan. It certainly wasn’t a sector that a taoiseach and other government ministers consistently refer to when they talk about what’s positive about the Irish economy at the moment and what’s driving growth and stimulus.”
He said he would prefer to stay in his department in the event of a reshuffle. First elected to the Dáil in an October 1998 byelection following the death of his father, Hugh Coveney, he has served as an MEP and been mentioned as a possible future Fine Gael leader.
He performed well as Fine Gael’s director of elections for the fiscal treaty referendum, which was carried with a 60 per cent Yes vote last May.
He turned 40 last June. “I think youth in public life is probably overrated. Some of the most driven people I see in this Government are people who’ve been in politics for the longest time.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny was probably the best example, he said.
The most difficult part of his job is that he does not get to see his wife and two daughters as much as he would like. “I spend a lot of time talking to them on my iPad – I’ve a 3½-year-old and a 1½-year-old and I’m about to have another: my wife is going to have a baby in February, just in case there isn’t enough going on next year!”