The second effective cut to maternity benefit this year and the end of the One Parent Family tax credit for have been described as “anti-woman” and “anti-family” by groups representing women.
Cuts to older people’s benefits have also been criticised as disproportionately affecting women.
The cut in the higher rate of maternity benefit from €262 to €230 per week "goes against everything Government says it is trying to do to support families" and will "push poorer women back to work sooner after their baby's birth than they would wish," said Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland. "This will hit women and their families at a time when they are already struggling with reduced income and increasing costs. This is not in the best interest of women, their children or indeed society as a whole." Some 90 per cent of women in receipt of maternity benefit claim the higher rate of €262 per week.
It comes after the announcement last year that maternity benefit would be taxed. This came into force in July this year.
The ending of the OPF tax credit, which was worth €1,650 per year and was payable to both parents, and its replacement with a Single Person Child Carer, of equal value but payable to only the "primary carer" shows Government "really doesn't understand the concept of shared parenting" according to the One Family organisation.
Its chief executive, Karen Kiernan, said there was "huge concern" that fathers will now be seeking reductions in their maintenance payments.
“When dads are contributing financially and with their time and really looking to share the parenting responsibilities, that should be acknowledged. This just smacks of Government having a stereotypical view of lone-parent families, that they are abandoned women receiving no support from their co-parents. It doesn’t acknowledge the diversity of families at all or support that. Ultimately this is going to affect mothers and children.”
The ending of the bereavement grant (€850), the telephone allowance (€9.50 per month) as well as the increase in the prescription charges and the lowering of the income thresholds for over-70s medical cards have also been criticised as cuts that will disproportionately affect women.
"Women live longer and are more likely to be dependent on the welfare, having been less likely to be in employment when they were younger," said Ms O'Connor. "These measures will put unnecessary hardship on one of the most vulnerable groups in our society without any noticeable savings to the taxpayer."
Eamon Timmins, head of advocacy with Age Action Ireland, agreed, "old age is disproportionately hard on women and these cuts will only serve to make it harder".
However, women’s groups welcomed the introduction of free GP care for under-5s and the annoucement of a €4.5 million investment in the quality and inspections of childcare facilities.