Meagre increase in allowance will not lift children out of poverty

Government says it didn’t have more to give in Budget 2018, but it had €400m for tax cuts

Finally, the weekly welfare payment to the poorest children in the State is being increased. After an eight-year “freeze”, the Child Dependant Allowance, which goes to the children under 18 year of parents on welfare, is to rise from €29.80 per week to €31.80.

But why by so little? From a Government which says it is committed to lifting 100,000 children out of consistent poverty, the miserly increase seems both mean and shameful, particularly when all other weekly welfare payments are going up by €5 a week.

Speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said the reason the CDA was not increased more was "because we didn't have more".

“While I am very conscious of the 130,000 children in consistent poverty, there are other programmes I needed to support – [including] their parents, their families – but also I wasn’t going to be able to be responsible for deciding that other groups, who are dependent on welfare, were more or less deserving of support.”*

It’s not true, however, that the Government “didn’t have more”.

Made a choice

Tax cuts announced in Tuesday's budget come at a price tag of about €400 million. Providing the poorest children in the State with an additional €3 a week would have cost about €62.4 million. This Fine Gael Government made a choice about how much the poorest children would get.

Children’s advocates questioned why there hadn’t at least been a greater increase in the rate for teenagers. As any parent of a teenager knows, these cost a lot more to keep – in food, clothes and socially – than younger children.

“The meagre increase of €2 in the ‘qualified child’ will do little to address child poverty – it won’t even cover the cost of a loaf of bread and litre of milk. Funds would have been better spent committed to a substantial increase in the rate for over-12s, recognising the increased cost of raising a teenager,” said Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos.

Ms Doherty stressed several times child poverty was a particular issue for her and said she would support children in the poorest households by supporting their parents. She would “reward work”.

To this end she is increasing the income disregard – ie the amount a person can earn before it impacts on the welfare payment – for parents in receipt of the One Parent Family Payment or the Jobseekers Transitional payment from €110 to €130 a week. The income threshold for the Working Family Payment (formerly the Family Income Supplement) is also increasing by €10 a week for families with up to three children.

Young unemployed

A group that continues to be discriminated against are the young unemployed, who get considerably less than jobseekers aged 26 or over.

In an improvement on last year, they will get the full €5 a week increase in their payment, along with other adult welfare recipients.

Last year, while others got a €5 increase, they got between €2.70 and €3.80 per week. With the increases, 25-year-old jobseekers will now receive €152.80 weekly while 18 to 24-year-olds will get €107.70.

The Government justifies these lower rates (26-year-olds and older get €198 per week) arguing the majority of young jobseekers live at home. One must ask: on those payments, how could they hope to move out?

Government clearly heard the criticism for its mean-minded treatment of the young unemployed in last year’s budget, including them in the €5 increase this year.

The small increases in supports across other payments too are welcome.

One hopes Government is listening this year and chooses to do more for the poorest children in Budget 2019.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated 113,000 children are living in consistent poverty. It should have read 130,000.