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Proposals to means test Child Benefit have been condemned by various charities, who claim that such a move would put more children at risk of poverty.
Social Justice Ireland warned that a move to reduce Child Benefit payments risked moving “more children into poverty” which would significantly increase what they described as Ireland' s “unacceptable child poverty figures”.
The remarks came after a report from the IMF on Wednesday suggested that Ireland should means test its Child Benefit payment as part of a series of reforms to its social welfare system.
However the proposal drew a series of harsh criticisms from a range of charities.
In a statement, Fr Sean Healy, Director of Social Justice Ireland said that means testing Child Benefit would be an unjust and unfair way of making economic savings, according to Social Justice Ireland.
The group has accused the IMF of targeting children. Eight per cent of children are living in consistent poverty, it said, with the number of children at risk of poverty rising by more than 35,000 in the three years between 2007 and 2010.
“Ireland’s support for children is low by international standards” said Fr Healy. “We acknowledge that Government must balance its Budget but we have shown on several occasions in recent years how Ireland can do this without victimising children.”
Barnardos Director of Advocacy Norah Gibbons also cautioned against the proposal, saying that working families, who are struggling to meet mortgage payments and other bills at the moment, are the most vulnerable to poverty traps and would be hit hardest by any move to means test the benefit.
She said Barnardos believed in universal child support in recognition of the cost of rearing children.
On Wednesday, IMF mission chief for Ireland, Craig Beaumont singled out removing the universal right to Child Benefit for all families as a possible way for Ireland to reduce its spending commitments.
"Child Benefits are universal. There is no means testing so all families qualify for child benefits. And the Child Benefit amount has risen very substantially in the last decade so it is quite an expensive part of the social welfare budget," he said.
"We are just laying out the option that you consider paying it to the families who are relatively less well-off and save quite substantial expenditures in the process."
Responding to the proposal, One Family - which campaigns for single parent families - said a portion of the payment should be kept as universal, with a remainder, top-up portion means-tested.
Stuart Duffin, manager of the charity’s welfare to work section, said the Government must guarantee families who depend on the support would not lose out.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul said that unless low and middle-income families were protected from poverty and social exclusion, changes to Child Benefit couldn't be considered.
The Family Resource Centre National Forum said a means-test would be a “very blunt instrument”.
However, Minister of State for Health, Kathleen Lynch, said the Government would have to examine whether or not to retain the universality principle.