Written Answers. - Child Support.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

272 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to the child dependant allowance which is paid at the higher rate of ?21.60 to widows and widowers; if there are plans to allow one-parent families this increase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19073/03]

There are currently three different weekly rates of child dependant allowances payable to social welfare recipients, €16.80, €19.30 – which applies to one parent family payment, invalidity pension and retirement pension – and €21.60. Half rate allowances may also be paid in respect of a child in certain circumstances, for example where both of the child's parents are receiving a social welfare payment, or where one parent has earnings over a prescribed amount.

The gains from standardising the rates of allowances would have to be weighed against the costs. In this regard to standardise the three main rates of allowances at the highest rate of €21.60 would mean that approximately 251,500 payments would be increased at a cost of approximately of €60 million annually. Since the time of the report of the Commission on Social Welfare, which recommended a rationalisation of the rates of child dependant allowances, the number of different rates has been reduced from 36 down to the current three. The policy direction followed since 1994 by successive Governments has been to concentrate resources for child income support on the child benefit scheme which is neutralvis-à-vis the employment status of the parents and does not contribute to poverty traps.

The Government's commitment in this regard is reflected in the substantial resources we have invested in the child benefit scheme since entering office, including the increases announced in Budget 2003 which came into effect from April this year, adding €104.84 million in a full year. Total expenditure on child benefit will reach €1.9 billion when the current programme of multi-annual increases is complete. By then child benefit will account for about 70% of the combined child income support received by those depending on social welfare payments whereas it accounted for under 30% in 1994. Furthermore it should be noted that, for families receiving social welfare payments, the combined value of their child benefit and child dependant allowances has increased since 1998 at a rate which is more than double the rate of inflation for this period.
The substantial investment in the child benefit scheme which the Government has made in recent years has been of major benefit to families and a most effective use of the resources available for child income support. In the recently agreed partnership agreement Sustaining Progress, the importance of child income support arrangements, including child dependant allowances, is recognised with a commitment to examine the effectiveness of current arrangements in ending child poverty. The question of further rationalisation of child dependant allowance will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the context of priorities generally.