'No decision' made on child benefit

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Government did not want to pre-judge the discussion on child benefit to take place in the Oireachtas and the Dail. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Government did not want to pre-judge the discussion on child benefit to take place in the Oireachtas and the Dail. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

No decision has been made about a report published yesterday which recommended a two-tier child benefit system, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has told the Dáil.

Mr Gilmore was commenting on the Mangan report which suggested a new system where families would only qualify for the maximum payment if they earned less than €25,000.

He was responding to Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea, who noted media commentary following the report’s publication had reported that Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton had no intention of revisiting child benefit after the cuts in the last budget.

Mr O’Dea said: “I accept that the changes proposed here are so radical that you couldn’t do it in one budget, perhaps two or even three.”

He asked if the Government would start to implement the report from the next budget or long-finger it.

Mr Gilmore said the Government has taken no decision on the contents of the report because it would pre-judge the discussion that would take place at the Oireachtas social protection committee and in the Dáil.

The Tánaiste said when every payment was taken into account the Government spent €2.8 billion a year on child benefit and child supports.

A report on child benefit commissioned by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton was published yesterday, 11 months after the expert group presented it to Government.

Mr O’Dea said the parents of middle Ireland, who were extremely worried about the contents of this report, can breathe a little easier now.

He said the report stated the impact of the two-tier system on poverty would be marginal and the people hardest hit would be middle-income earners. The effects on employment incentives would be “mixed at best”.

Mr O’Dea said: “It’s hardly worth the political trouble and ....deep social dislocation of hitting middle Ireland. It’s the squeezed middle once more to bring about results which the proposers of the report concede are at best marginal.”

Mr Gilmore told him this was an issue that needed a broad discussion and contrasted with the approach taken by Fianna Fáil in government.

There was some heckling when the Tánaiste highlighted the then government’s national recovery plan in 2010, in which he said they talked about the development of a rebalanced and integrated child income support payment system which would provide for a universal component to replace child benefit with one single payment rate per child.

He said the plan was to supplement the funding with a further payment in the case of children of families in receipt of social welfare payment or in low income employment.

“There was no red line under that,” shouted Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen.

“That was your governments settled policy,” Mr Gilmore retorted.

“The approach by Minister Burton was a manifest improvement. We have a report and will have a full discussion on it,” he said.

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