Thursday 21 September 2017

Burton refuses to quash fears of €40 a month child-benefit cut

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Lise Hand

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has heightened fears of child benefit cuts in the Budget.

A cut of up to €40 a month per child was recommended by an expert group within the Department of Social Protection.

The minister ruled out cuts to basic social welfare payments, such as the dole and pensions, but again failed to dispel concerns that child benefit is in the firing line.

The move comes as the Government was warned the Budget will have to be fair and target high earners.

Unemployed

Ms Burton did not specify what she regarded as "core" welfare rates, leaving her some wriggle room before the Budget.

But it is generally believed this commitment will cover the basic payments to the unemployed and pensioners.

"We are committed to maintaining the basic, core social welfare rates, that we're committed to reforming social welfare so that people who are currently unemployed and claiming social welfare, if we get them back to work, every time that happens, it saves the State at least €200 a week and then they start to pay tax," she said.

The Programme for Government committed Fine Gael and Labour to maintaining basic social welfare rates -- such as the dole and old age pension -- and not raising income tax.

But Ms Burton gave no such commitment on the child benefit front, saying there was no decision yet on the payment.

She said a report was being compiled in her department on the options for child benefit.

The minister said her preference was to tax the payment but Revenue Commissioners highlighted legal problems.

Ms Burton was speaking at a pre-Budget meeting with 31 lobby groups for people dependent on social welfare payments.

Campaigners were alarmed by Ms Burton's failure to rule out child benefit cuts.

Parents Against Child Benefit Cuts spokesperson Hazel Hayden said it was clear a cut was being lined up: "It confirms our worst fears and that what we are doing is right to show the Government they can't keep doing this to ordinary families," she said.

SIPTU president Jack O'Connor said he wanted to hear Taoiseach Enda Kenny talk about high income earners as much as he was about making savings from public sector workers.

"My problem is in relation to what he is not saying about the contribution of the wealthy in our society. They have a lot of catching up to do," he said.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said the Budget would be "predicated on fairness". He added: "There is considerable further heavy lifting to be done and I think that we'll only have buy-in from the public if it's perceived fair."

Mr Howlin said the Government acknowledged what had been achieved under the Croke Park Agreement but wanted to do more.

Irish Independent

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