independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Fiach Kelly: Nobody in Cabinet is for turning this year

ONE crack can lead to another, and another, until the whole thing collapses. Hence the Government's attitude in the days after the Budget, with no repeat, so far, of last year's U-turns.

Last year's reversals started on Budget night itself, when Michael Noonan questioned Joan Burton's disability cuts on 'Prime Time'.

The cuts were subsequently changed, as were changes to community employment schemes and DEIS schools.

While the initial focus this year has fallen on the cut to the respite carer's grant, the real political danger lies in the €10 child benefit cut, and ministers and TDs know this.

Labour, in particular, is sensitive, having pitched itself as the defender of child benefit during last year's general election.

But try as they might, backbench TDs are unlikely to change the Cabinet's mind on this. A number of things stand in their way, simple maths above all.

Welfare

The child-benefit cut makes up €136m of €390m of savings in the Department of Social Protection next year. Try and change that, even slightly, and you have an awful lot of money to try and find somewhere else.

There are also suggestions that there could be nips and tucks here and there to help those depending on other welfare payments. But the reality is the help is mostly needed elsewhere – among the coping classes.

It is needed by the families with mortgages, incomes that have been destroyed in recent years, a few kids and a lot of financial headaches.

Some of those people voted Labour because of the promise to protect child benefit. Labour has put so much store in child benefit that it has the most to lose politically.

Another factor standing in the way of child benefit changes is the attitude of senior ministers, who are all holding the line.

After being undermined by Mr Noonan last year, Joan Burton is determined to stick by her decisions for Budget 2013.

The problem for Ms Burton is her determination could cost her party in the long run.

Irish Independent

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