CHILD benefit should be slashed by €40 a month in the budget. That’s according to officials in Minister Joan Burton’s own department.
Middle income families were today warned to brace themselves for a savage December budget – with cuts to child benefit top of the list.
Families with two children face losing almost €1,000 a year under proposals drawn up by the Department of Social Protection.
The recommendation to slash the payment to €100 for the first two children, has been described as “anti-child and anti-family” by Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland.
Around 600,000 families currently receive the monthly payment.
The Minister for Social Protection is also considering a new tax on maternity benefit, it has emerged.
But an internal report drawn up by department chiefs has identified a key cut to child benefits of €40 per child.
The internal advisory group has recommended a two-tier system. It would see a flat rate payment of €100 a month for every child with a top-up payment for low income families.
Currently, child benefit is paid at €140 per child for the first two children, €148 for the third and €160 for any subsequent children.
While no decision has been taken on the radical plan, the IMF is putting the Government under pressure to make drastic cuts to child benefit and other social welfare payments.
There are currently 1.1 million children in Ireland, with around 600,000 families currently receiving on the benefit.
This new drastic report from Minister Joan Burton's department would save as much as €200m a year if it were introduced.
And it has emerged that the Government is considering proposals to tax maternity benefit, a payment received by tens of thousands of women every year.
Ireland is currently in the midst of a baby boom and the cost of the State benefit has tripled in less than 10 years.
In 2002 it cost €99m to the Government, but by last year this figure had rocketed to €309m. State maternity benefit ranges from €217.80 to €262 a week.
"Such a cut is unnecessary," said Fr Sean Healy, who will present Social Justice Ireland's own fully costed Budget 2013 at a press conference today.
"We will show today that the Government can reduce its borrowing by €3.5bn without making any reductions in social welfare or child benefit."
"I would consider any such cut to child benefit to be anti children and anti-family," he added. Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea said the proposals would be "catastrophic" to thousands of families.
"The attack on child benefit is a disgrace," he told the Herald.
"There are two types of people in Ireland at the moment there is the vulnerable and there is the squeezed middle class.
"To the vast majority of people, to decrease the child benefit by 30pc would be catastrophic.
"Taking everything into account now -- increased mortgage rates, decreased wages, increased cost of living -- I don't know how some families are getting through the week."
He added that the proposal to hit maternity benefit was a deep cut as many Irish men are unemployed and are unable to provide for their expectant partners without the State's help.
"To me it smacks of desperation," he said. "Most of the women I know have no alternative source of income when they go on maternity leave."
Mr O'Dea also slammed the leaking of reports and proposals ahead of the Budget which was akin to scaremongering.
"It is quite unfair to the people who are affected when you can't see the proposal or the logic behind it," he added.