Means testing of children’s allowance not on cards, says Minister

Regina Doherty clarifies confusion arising from her comments at panel discussion

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty: “I want to just reiterate my support for the universality of the payment that is children’s allowance.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty: “I want to just reiterate my support for the universality of the payment that is children’s allowance.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The Government will not consider means testing children’s allowance payments, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said.

Ms Doherty issued the statement in response to reports that she was willing to consider cutting the payment to families with higher levels of income.

On Friday, the Minister took part in a panel discussion on social affairs where the employers group Ibec favoured changing the child benefit system.

According to a report of the panel discussion, Ms Doherty said she was prepared to examine options for using a part of universal child benefit to fund childcare.

“I have just made a note – to look at the counties where households earn over €100,000 and are paid the children’s allowance,” she is quoted as saying.

“We need to invest heavily in childcare, and [if] we can’t have a good quality childcare and a universal payment system [child benefit], we need to weigh that.”

Trade union Siptu said on Tuesday it wanted universal child benefit payments maintained but has called for improvements in the manner in which child poverty is tackled.

The issue was discussed on RTÉ radio on Tuesday, during which the Minister said she had not suggested looking at means testing, but rather had referred to being open to looking at a report on the issue of child benefit conducted in 2011.

“I have no problem looking at anything but I want to just reiterate my support for the universality of the payment that is children’s allowance,” she told the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.

Equal payments

Ms Doherty said means testing was cumbersome and that she favoured a system where individual payments were equal to all children in the State.

In a further clarifying statement issued by her department on Tuesday evening, the Minister said means testing was not in the programme for government.

“Government policy on childcare supports is to provide assistance for parents and their children through improved services rather than increased cash transfers alone,” she said.

Such measures include free education through the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme which now runs for two years, as well as maternity benefit, paternity benefit and adoptive benefit payments.

“I am continuing to work with my colleagues in Government to introduce one year of shared paid parental leave,” the Minister said. “In Budget 2018, the Government provided for an increase in income supports that directly links with household income, such as qualified child increases.”

Other targeted income supports for families with children include the Working Family Payment Scheme for low-income families.