Over the period since 1997 the value of all social welfare payments has increased in real terms. In particular, the monthly rates of child benefit has increased by €93.51 at the lower rate and €115.78 at the higher rate, increases of 246% and 234% respectively, compared with inflation of 26.9%. The increase is unprecedented and delivers on the Government's objective of providing support for children generally while offering real choice to all parents.
The 2004 budget provided a €6 per month increase, or 4.8%, in the rate of child benefit payable in respect of each of the first two children and €8 per month increase, or 5.1%, in the rate payable in respect of the third and subsequent children.
Child benefit is not intended primarily to meet child care costs but to provide assistance generally to parents in the cost of raising children. It delivers a standard rate of payment in respect of all children in a family regardless of income levels or employment status. It supports all children and it assists those on low incomes more in relative terms. Child benefit helps to contribute to the cost of raising children, regardless of the household's income or employment status. It does not distort parental choice in respect of labour force participation and contributes towards alleviating child poverty. The concentration of additional resources in child benefit avoids the employment disincentives associated with increased child dependant allowances and has underpinned the policy of successive Governments since 1994.
My priorities include making further progress on our child benefit strategy along with the other commitments to social welfare contained in Sustaining Progress, the national anti-poverty strategy and the programme for Government. Further rationalisation of child benefit will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the context of priorities generally.