Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Social Welfare and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2023: From the Seanad


The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

3:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. Seanad amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Seanad amendment No. 1:

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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On Committee Stage in the Seanad, I brought forward three amendments, all of which relate to the extension of child benefit to 18-year-olds who are in full-time education or who have a disability. Of these, amendment No. 3 is the substantive amendment and will provide for the extension to take effect from 1 May rather than from 3 September. The other two amendments are technical amendments consequential to this. Child benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children up to the age of 16. Currently, the payment continues to be paid in respect of children until their 18th birthday where they are in full-time education or have a disability.

With many children now starting primary school at age five, together with the increase in the number of pupils doing transition year, there has been an increase in the number of 18-year-olds still in secondary education. In budget 2024, the Government decided to extend the payment of child benefit to 18-year-olds who are in full-time education or have a disability and this was one of my key priorities in the budget. The extension of child benefit to 18-year-olds in full-time education is a long-term change for the better that will support families throughout Ireland. This is a significant change to the child benefit scheme. It requires technical and operational changes to my Department’s scheme. Originally, we had provided that the change would take effect from September, but I am pleased to be able to bring that forward to 1 May. In the region of 60,000 children annually are expected to benefit from this measure.

In the case of anybody who has aged out of payment where the child is still 18, they should submit their application. If the child will be still 18 on 1 May, they should get in the application and they will go back into payment. I wanted to make that point because I was speaking to some parents earlier who thought they might not qualify but they will, so they should submit their application.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We will support the amendments and we welcome the changes that were proposed in the Seanad. They are very welcome and people appreciated the announcement in the budget. That said, we need to look to the coming budget in respect of the child benefit rate, which has not increased in recent years and is still substantially below where it was pre recession. That needs to viewed in the context of the Barnardos report this week regarding the decisions parents are having to make to provide for their children. Parents talked about missing meals and activities being sacrificed to ensure food is put on the table. Obviously, many families are doing just fine, but there remain many other families in our society who are struggling. The Taoiseach spoke about the emphasis on child poverty. More needs to be done for children, in respect of not only the rate of child benefit but also an increase. I would perhaps place more emphasis on the increase for a qualified child. While there was an increase in the budget, it did not come anywhere near what the Children's Rights Alliance and other organisations dealing with families in poverty advocated for. I have made a point frequently in recent months about the cliff edge that exists for lone parents, not least those who are working and would be entitled to the working family payment.

More can be done and that Barnardos report was quite worrying. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, acknowledged it is a concern for people in these circumstances and stated nobody should have to make such sacrifices to ensure their children are fed, but that is a broader question about child benefit and some of the issues I am concerned about. Nevertheless, there is no doubt the amendments are positive, welcome and logical. The previous policy may have come from a time when people did not necessarily stay in school until that age but that has changed, so it is good the amendments reflect that.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 2:

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 3:

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments reported.