Government seeking ways to protect children from poverty

Monday 18 February 2013 14.30
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Joan Burton said it would be inappropriate to give her opinion before the report went to Cabinet
Joan Burton said it would be inappropriate to give her opinion before the report went to Cabinet
Fergus Finlay said hungry children were already bearing an inordinate share of the State's financial difficulties
Fergus Finlay said hungry children were already bearing an inordinate share of the State's financial difficulties

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said that she and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald are looking at ways to improve funding for children at risk of poverty.

An expert report has recommended reforming child benefit, either through developing a two-tier system or by taxing the benefit.

Minister Burton said she will be bringing the expert report to cabinet tomorrow and hopes there would be a full discussion when it is published on Wednesday.

She said it would be inappropriate to give her opinion on the report's recommendations before then.

Meanwhile, the Government has received a mixed assessment in the Children's Rights Alliance's Report Card for 2013.

In the group's annual rating of the Government's commitments to children, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs under Minister Fitzgerald received an A grade for strengthening children's constitutional rights.

However, the Department of Social Protection is at the bottom, receiving an F grade, or fail, for child poverty.

The report says harsh measures in Budget 2013 hit the poorest families hardest and this grade reflects its devastating impact on children.

Minister Ruairi Quinn and the Department of Education and Skills received an overall B-minus grade for solid progress - particularly in literacy, patronage and school buildings.

The Government has been awarded an overall C grade - a slight drop in grade from last year's C-plus - despite receiving an A grade for holding the Children's Referendum.

The annual report card is published by an alliance of more than 100 organisations working to secure the rights of children.

It grades the Government in the areas of constitutional rights, education, health, standard of living, protection from abuse, neglect and discrimination.

Chief Executive of Barnardos Fergus Finlay has said that there is room for reform in the area of child benefit.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, he said that he agreed with reform which would see well-off families get a bit less and children who need help most would get a bit more.

He said he did not believe there was any case for restructuring the system in order to put money back into the Exchequer.

"There certainly is an argument for a redistributive approach to child benefit that preserves a universal payment for all families but gives more where it's needed most but there is no argument to reform the system just to cut the spending by two or three hundred million euro," he said.

Mr Finlay said that child benefit had been sliced off the top since the recession began and he said that children, particularly hungry children were already bearing an inordinate share of the State's financial difficulties.

He said he was "long enough in the tooth to know savings have to be made and that reform always has some winners and losers" but said he did "not accept that the losers in this instance should be the hungriest children in the country".

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