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Mothers to lose €832 maternity pay while benefit cut to hit families

NEW mothers will see a cut of more than €800 in maternity benefit, while large families are to be hit with a child benefit cut of €120 a year for four or more children.

A single maternity benefit rate of €230 a week is being introduced which will cost thousands of mothers €832 over the full six months of paid maternity leave.

The top rate of maternity benefit is currently €262 a week but a new standard rate of €230 is being introduced, representing a €32-a-week cut for most mothers.

Maternity benefit is currently paid at 80pc of weekly earnings with a maximum payment of €262 and a minimum rate of €217.80. While women on the lower rate will benefit, there will be far more losers than winners. Nearly all the 46,000 mothers a year who get it are on the top rate, the Department of Social Protection said.

Some employers pay a top-up payment to women on maternity leave, and in this case the employer may take the financial hit as they will have to provide more money to achieve the same level of maternity pay.

The Government will save €30m next year from this move, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said. She said Ireland was "quite generous" in paying maternity benefit for 26 weeks as, for example, France and the Netherlands only paid it for 16 weeks, and she had protected this longer duration of payment.

The reduced rate will be introduced from January 2014 for new maternity benefit claimants.

Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said the move would discourage women from having babies and force them back to work earlier.

"Ireland is currently in the middle of a 'baby boom' and to reduce maternity benefit at this time is counter-productive economically, counter-intuitive and will discourage women from having babies," she said.

Meanwhile, the child benefit rate for fourth and subsequent children is to be cut by €10 a month to €130 – a Budget cut sneakily announced last year but due to be implemented in January 2014.

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Over 50,000 children in large families qualify for these higher child benefit rates, and the department confirmed yesterday that the rate would be reduced to €130 in 2014, in line with the rates paid for the first three children.

Department figures show there are 38,735 families with four children or more in receipt of child benefit who will be affected by this cut and some 51,254 children affected, meaning their families will take an income hit of €6m.

Parents Against Child Unfriendly Budget (PACUB) said it was devastated as families had been lured into thinking there would be no cuts to child benefit this year.

"This is a savage attack on families which will impact disproportionately on larger families," said spokesperson Jane Mooney.

Meanwhile, lone fathers are likely to lose out thanks to the removal of the One Family Tax Credit for both parents in the Budget.

This tax credit worth €1,650 was available to both parents if they were not cohabiting to reflect the higher costs of single parenting – such as the need for a larger home or transport.

In future, only the primary carer of the child will be eligible for the tax relief.

One Family, which represents single-parent families, said it was "extremely disappointed that working parents who share caring and financial responsibility for their children after separation are now to be penalised by the removal of the One Family Tax Credit".

"We should be supporting both parents to cooperate and share responsibility for their children following relationship breakdown instead of penalising them," said its chief executive Karen Kiernan.

Mums under attack