Friday 22 September 2017

FG pressures Burton over child benefit

Joan Burton: pressure Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton is having pressure cranked up on her by Fine Gael to outline her plans for reforming child benefit to give more supports to poorer families.

Senior Fine Gael figures are pointedly asking where is the minister's plan to move more of the available funding "from the rich to the poor".

In the developing row in the Coalition over cuts in the Budget, Ms Burton's supporters are arguing that sticking to the planned social welfare reductions of €440m will see child benefit taking another hit.

But Fine Gael figures say the Labour Party minister has been sitting on a report for over a year that outlines ways to redistribute child income supports "from the rich to the poor".

"Fifteen months ago, Minister Burton received a report from the advisory group on tax and social welfare recommending a redistribution of child income supports from the rich to the poor.

"We look forward to her response," a senior Fine Gael figure in Government said.

Ms Burton's delay in publishing the report and her failure to respond to it has annoyed Fine Gael. Mrs Burton is again resisting cuts to social welfare in the Budget – and Labour sources claim it would inevitably involve child benefit cuts.

"The minister can only respond definitively at Budget time, as any decision one way or another will have to get Cabinet approval," a source said.

'DISCUSSION'

But Fine Gael sources deny any proposals have been tabled yet to cut child benefit or target pensioners in the Budget.

"There's been no discussion at any level between the parties about the cuts to the social protection budget or the budget of any other department.

"It's up to Minister Burton to propose the measures needed to deliver the €440m in savings that she has promised, as recently as June.

"We will discuss her proposals when they are available to us in September.

"Fine Gael's preference is that we protect low- and middle-income families with children and prioritise measures aimed at getting working age adults back into jobs and cutting out the waste and fraud that is undermining public confidence in the welfare system," a party source said. The Labour Party is hoping Fine Gael backbenchers will baulk at the prospect of more child benefit cuts in the Budget.

Labour ministers argue if the planned €440m of cuts goes ahead, then child benefit cuts will be required.

"I don't think backbench Fine Gael TDs, or a portion of them, if faced with that choice, will want to cut child benefit," a source said.

Cuts to basic social welfare rates are being ruled out by the Government, leaving items like child benefit on the table.

Irish Independent

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