Saturday 25 October 2014

Editorial: There must be a way to means-test child benefit

Published 09/06/2014 | 02:30

Picture posed: Thinkstock

WE HAVE many strengths as a people – but an ability to order our own affairs is not always top of the national achievements list. Success with simple administrative tasks at times appears to elude us. There are serious doubts about the accuracy of the voters' register; our efforts to introduce electronic voting was nothing short of lamentable.

At times it appears our political leaders and senior administrators adopt a fatalistic attitude instead of facing up to these shortcomings, learning how our neighbours manage and emulating them. The idea of means-testing child benefit is a prime example.

Among the findings of the Irish Independent/Millward Brown survey today is that two out of three people favour paying more in child benefit to those most in need, and paying less, or perhaps even nothing, to better-off families. But every time this idea is mooted we are treated to a litany of problems and difficulties.

We are told that there are incongruities in various databases, which cannot be reconciled. It is difficult to find out whose income or incomes should actually be assessed. The modern non-nuclear family poses a social nightmare.

In sum, we are given every reason why this cannot be done. Sometimes it is hard to avoid the suspicion that a lack of political will may be the real reason why this does not happen.

Where there is a strong political will, an administrative way is generally found. The compilation of a database for the property tax in the last few years is a good example.

The Revenue Commissioners has delivered a very high compliance rate. A very difficult administrative task has been largely achieved and the lingering problems and anomalies are now being addressed. So, difficult administrative tasks can be tackled and problems can be overcome. It is a sensitive issue and there are arguments in favour of maintaining some universality in our welfare systems. But it is now well accepted by many that a basic payment for all, with a top-up payment for those in greater need, is an idea worthy of very serious consideration.

Fatalistically accepting our administrative shortcomings is no longer good enough. Issues such as this should be dealt with.

Modest heroine remains a true inspiration

KATIE Taylor, our Olympic gold champion, has written a new chapter in Irish and world sporting history. This weekend in Bucharest, the Co Wicklow boxer convincingly won her sixth consecutive European championship. She has not lost a fight since she began her remarkable world-conquering journey in 2005 and she now holds all major titles at European, world and Olympic level. Taylor's power and speed are renowned, and that famous left jab, which has spelt the end for many opponents, is now the stuff of legend. But her response after her judges' unanimous 3-0 verdict over her French opponent told us much about her attitude to life and sport.

The record-breaking champion, aged just 27, spoke of her hopes to continue, to box better and win even more. There are titles to be defended in the World Championships this autumn and there are the Olympics in less than two years.

Taylor, and her backroom team, which includes her father Pete, are still happily full of ambition. Their modesty and grace when they win is inspiring and they are justifiably the toast of the Irish nation. This apparent unending series of wins is a source of inspiration for all Irish women involved in sport who, quite rightly, will no longer accept second best in the shadows of their male counterparts. It is also a great boost to the Irish boxing fraternity who have delivered much glory to Ireland.

Taylor's achievement will be hailed across the country today and for many years to come. We are all left with the hope that the best is yet to come for her and for Irish sport.

Irish Independent

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