Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Report on Child and Family Income Support: Statements (Resumed)
I will stick to the point, as I have so little time. Like other Senators, we would like to discuss many social welfare issues, but I will make a few brief points. First, there should be no change to the FIS. It is working well and is achieving what it set out to do.
Second, I more or less stated on budget day what Ms Mangan and the advisory group have stated, that is, there should be some kind of universal payment that would be supplemented for needy families, to be determined by social welfare officers, community welfare officers or so on. I agree with Senator Barrett, in that there is no need to pay child benefit to people who earn ¤250,000 per year. Indeed, we should be considering a cut-of point of between ¤100,000 and ¤150,000.
Third, I wish to discuss targeted supports for children and how other countries achieve much more with much less. More could be done. I agree with Senator Moloney, who touched on the issue of how child benefit is not used in the right way. Targeting child benefit to needy families whose houses are under threat because of large mortgages is warranted.
I made my fourth point in the Seanad last week. I hope that the Minister can hear me. At some point in the near future, we should consider paying child benefit only to families of five or six children.
There is an argument about cost. There is so much investment in the first five or six children that there is little cost in providing for the needs of children above that number. The issue should be examined seriously.
I thank the Minister for coming here today. During discussions on the Social Welfare Bill in December, she gave a commitment to come to the Seanad to debate the report, and she has followed through on that. I will selectively quote from the article referred to by Senator Mooney in order to return the serve on his selective comments. The article by Ms Mary Murphy in The Irish Times outlined that Fianna Fáil cut child benefit by ¤400 million-----
We cannot sustain a nation when the basic Irish weekly social welfare payment of ¤188 is more than twice the amount paid in the UK and Germany. Jobs fund social welfare and social protection and we must encourage job creation. We cannot have a disincentive. Rather than being concerned about the significant amount being spent on social welfare, we must be concerned about how we can get the money to do it. Any country spending more than ¤20 billion per year on social welfare when the tax take is ¤36 billion is clearly dysfunctional. We must find a way around it. Although we would like to be generous and look after all the children of the nation, taking into account Senator Barrett's comments, it does not make sense to pay children's allowance to millionaires. We must make a change in order to encourage jobs and people at work. It is sensible and worthwhile to do this without being overly generous with benefits.
In Sinn Féin we are very concerned about the proposals in the Mangan report, as they will not tackle child poverty and will only increase it. We urge the Minister to disregard the proposals in the report as they would be deeply damaging and will add further strain to low and middle-income earners. Far from achieving efficiencies or protecting the most vulnerable, they will only exacerbate child poverty. Child poverty is on the increase in the State, going from 6.3% in 2008 to 9.3% in 2011, and we know it is continuing to rise. We have seen evidence of hardship on a daily basis on the street and in constituency offices. These recommendations will further impoverish lower and middle range earners who are being constantly squeezed.
The Government continuously points to the fact that high earners receive child benefit as an argument to cut or tax the payment. If the Government is intent on tackling high earners, it should take on board Sinn Féin's proposals for a third tax band of 48% on incomes over ¤100,000. This would return more to the Exchequer than any cut or tax on child benefit. People have said that the well-off should not get awards but these people never argue that such high earners should be taxed more. I do not understand such a line of thinking, and if we want the wealthy to pay their way, tax is the obvious choice. I would expect the application of Senator Healy Eames to Sinn Féin in this regard, as she will join us on the taxation model.
The ideological opposition to taxes begets this attitude. This cut is unnecessary as the books can be balanced without it. If the Government wants to target high earners in the budget, it should go after their income, as that would be more beneficial to the economy.
Child benefit is a payment to children in an attempt to cherish all children equally and in recognition of the State's failure to provide services such as free education or child care. That point has been lost as the debate today has focused on income of parents as opposed to the payment to children. It is also, by and large, a payment directly to women.
Women are more likely to be in poverty and to have to deal with the consequences of poverty, particularly in a family situation in having to provide for their children. This will create additional considerable hardship to women. I appreciate my time is up but it is incorrect that we should have had such a short time to debate such an important issue. I hope the Minister will return to debate it again in the future.