Maternity benefit is an income maintenance payment awarded to eligible women for a 26-week period on foot of a confinement. Entitlement to this benefit for employees is contingent on entitlement to statutory maternity leave. In 2012 there were 45,129 recipients under the scheme, down from 48,413 in 2011. My Department spent €303 million on maternity benefit payments in 2012, down from €309 million in 2011. Subject to the provisions of social welfare legislation, the 26-week period of core statutory maternity leave attracts a benefit payment. Maternity leave legislation also provides an option for a woman to take an additional 16-week period of leave that does not attract a benefit payment.
In line with the programme for government commitment to maintain headline rates of social welfare, maternity benefit remains payable at rates ranging from €217.80 per week up to €262 per week, derived with reference to earnings in the relevant tax year. Budget 2013 provided that, from July of this year, maternity benefit will be subject to taxation, in line with the majority of social welfare payments and the general principle that, as far as possible, income from all sources should be subject to taxation. The right to maternity leave is established under the Maternity Protection Acts, legislation which is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice. Any changes to current Maternity Leave provisions are a matter for that Minister to consider in the first instance – and consequential changes to Maternity Benefit would have to be considered by Government in a Budgetary context.