Saturday 1 October 2016

Let's have honest child-benefit debate

Published 16/02/2013 | 17:00

AFTER months of delay, the Mangan Report on child benefit is finally to be published soon.

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Today in this newspaper we bring you details of that report and the options it outlines on whether these payments should be means-tested or taxed.

We hope it can begin a process of informed and reasoned debate on choices about that scarce resource, taxpayers' money, and how we can best assure the welfare of all the children of the nation.

Some of us think we are familiar with the general outline arguments which have it that many well-heeled people who get this money do not really need it. The well-off should not get child benefit – more should be given to poorer families, the stock argument goes.

But then we get to how the authorities are to measure who is too well-off for child benefit and who is poor enough for additional payments.

Are we to resort to cumbersome and invasive means tests?

Are we to use the tax system to claw back money paid in child benefit?

For years we have been told about the obstacles in the way of means tests and/or taxing child benefits.

Officialdom has too often given us a problem for every posited solution.

The Mangan Report finally sheds light on the reality of the situation. Means testing would be expensive and administratively difficult. But a clawback through taxation does have distinct possibilities.

This is another tough one for Social Protection Minister Joan Burton. She is faced with another scenario under which people risk losing money they can ill afford to lose. The squeezed middle income earners, who are unfortunate enough to fall on the wrong side of an income threshold, risk being further squeezed.

But she must also challenge the Opposition to abandon their comfort zones and participate in an honest debate.

The same must be said of the social partners and the broad sweep of society generally.

It is time we had an informed debate based on facts outlined in the Mangan Report.

Irish Independent

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