Tuesday 24 April 2018

Joined-up thinking can help direct child benefits to the needy

With the State bankrupt we need to start means testing for children's allowance, writes Eamon Delaney

ThE debate about child benefit, and the Government's proposal to cut it, has brought up the whole argument of why means testing is not done for all benefits of this sort -- be they children's allowance, the old age pension, free travel, or third level grants -- and why the State is not able, or willing, to install a system which can do this. It is strange that those, especially on the left, who argue for helping the needy, actually insist on the 'universality' concept where everyone benefits, including the well-off, and the public purse is ransacked yet again. Aviation tycoon Michael O'Leary is surely correct: why should someone like him, and his family, get child benefit?

However, one argument against is that such testing is 'too expensive' and laborious. But this is a lame response. Surely it is lot less expensive than handing out benefits to everybody. Why not do a once-off means test on a family or individual, and use it for all these payments? But much of the argument against means testing is not that the State does not have the will or means to do it, but because there is a philosophical acceptance that, in a modern welfare state, everyone should get these things regardless of income, and so such testing does not apply.

The reality, however, is that means testing is used for some things and not for others. For example, the Department of Social Welfare means tests for almost all its benefits (especially if you are self-employed) as does the Department of Education for education grants. This is as it should be, so that those who deserve it receive it, as opposed to handing out free third-level education to everybody, which will now have to be withdrawn. Such grants assessment seems more fair than the existing system, which mainly benefits the middle classes. Helping children with less means to get to college should begin in primary and secondary school.

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