With the Budget on December 7, An Taoiseach and his Cabinet are considering every option when it comes to cuts and taxes. Mr Kenny at the beginning of this week declared that any speculation regarding cuts in child benefit is 'purely speculation.' However a cut in child benefit seems very probable.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, before the General Election, promised that his party would “not allow Fine Gael to cut Child Benefit any more”. This week Joan Burton declined to make any comment on the child benefit issue, other than to suggest “those who don’t need it, surrender it back to the State”.
Why such a U-turn? The reason is that they do not have a choice. Labour does not have a choice. Fine Gael does not have a choice. They can either accept it, or resign.
Ireland has one of the highest child benefit rates in Europe. It is a luxury that Fianna Fail kept raising during the Celtic Tiger years. People have become so accustomed to this luxury that a lot of them now depend on it. In some cases, it is what puts food on the table. Child benefit has now become part of people’s income. It should not have been raised when people did not need it, and it should not be dropped when people need it to survive.
Another point to be made, is that people who do not need it, get it. People like Michael O'Leary are getting thousands each year in Child Benefit. You cannot blame him for taking free money, he pays his taxes too. However he recently stated that he and his wife clearly do not need it. But to think that this country is borrowing billions of euro, and then paying out child benefit to people earning hundreds of thousands of euro, is just mad.
Child benefit should eventually get to a stage where it is a fair bit less than it currently is. It should be means tested to make sure that people getting it need it. The money saved in doing this could be used in many ways to help families; for example, through decreasing college fees, free school uniforms and books, and through income-support schemes for people on lower incomes and single-parent families.
Of course, we are in the middle of a very dark recession, and cuts need to be made, but cutting child benefit for everyone is an easy but cowardly move. How will families take yet another cut? There are only so many cuts that they can take and many families in Ireland have already reached that point.
The Government in the future cannot fall into the trap where they are giving increased benefits that are not needed, because when the time comes that they need to be cut, that is when the people of Ireland will need them most.
The above is an opinion piece by Brian Crowley, transition year student, St Gerald’s College, Castlebar, currently on work experience with the Mayo Advertiser.