In relation to my Department, the document in question calls on the Government to combat the growing problem of child and family poverty. The universal child benefit payment is one of the most important State supports for children and for families. More than one million children and almost half a million families benefit from it.
Significant improvements were introduced in the monthly rates of child benefit in 1995 and again in 1996. The new rates from September 1996 will be £29 for each of the first two children and £34 for the third and subsequent children. Over the two years involved, a 45 per cent increase has been provided in respect of the first two children and a 36 per cent increase for other children. In addition, since last year child benefit is payable up to age 19 for those in full-time education. Further improvements have been made in the family income supplement for families at work on low pay and in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. A new grant of £500 has been introduced for twins at birth, at age four and at age 12.
Last October, the Minister established the Commission on the Family to examine the needs and priorities of families in the rapidly changing social and economic environment. The commission will recommend to the Government how families can best be facilitated in the support and development of individual members, it will make an interim report to Government by October 1996 and a final report by June 1997.
The recommendations in the Barnardo's document will, of course, be borne in mind in the context of further improvements in child income support being considered.