My Department provides child income support in a number of ways. The principal support is child benefit, a universal payment which is neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of the child’s parents and does not contribute to poverty traps. Since 1997, the monthly rates of child benefit have increased by €111.91 at the lower rate and €135.48 at the higher rate, increases of 293.8% and 273.6% respectively. From April 2006, child benefit rates will be €150 per month for each of the first two children and €185 per month for the third and each subsequent child. Child benefit is paid to over 547,540 families in respect of approximately 1,060,740 children.
A second child income support is child dependant allowance, paid in addition to weekly social welfare payments in respect of over 255,737 children at full rate and over 83,577 at half rate.
In addition, my Department provides cash support by way of weekly payments to families at work on low pay, through the family income supplement scheme. A number of improvements have been made to the scheme over the years, including assessment of entitlement on the basis of net rather than gross income and progressive increases in the income thresholds, making it easier for lower income households to qualify for payment. As a result, there are currently over 17,448 families receiving a weekly FIS payment, reaching nearly 33,956 children. This is the highest number of FIS recipients in the history of the scheme.
Child poverty is clearly a complex area requiring co-ordinated action across a range of Government services and income support payments. The development of income supports which can make the most effective contribution to child poverty lies within my Department's responsibilities and a series of budgets have increased considerably in real terms the level of resources which are going to families with children.
While the range of income and other supports has made very significant contributions, a key issue arises as to whether this level of resources is best used to address poverty among those families. While the solutions to the problem of child poverty cover a wide range of measures, including income supports and services, I am committed to reviewing the role of child income supports in this regard. This includes examining the feasibility of merging the family income supplement and child dependant allowance into a second tier child income support taking account of an examination being carried out in this area by the National Economic and Social Council.