CHANGES TO MATERNITY benefit won’t be a disincentive to new mothers wanting to work, Minister Joan Burton has said.
The Social Protection Minister was questioned on the changes, which were brought in under Budget 2014, by Deputy Lucinda Creighton.
The cut to the maternity benefit means it will be standardised at €230 per week from January for new claimants.
A protest was staged by pregnant women and parents after the announcement in October, with the National Women’s Council saying the decision will lead to a “de-facto reduction of €32 per week for the vast majority of women”.
Deputy Creighton asked the Minister for Social Protection “if she is concerned that the changes to maternity benefit will further discourage women into the labour force”. She said this was in view of “the ongoing rise in the number of women on the live register while the number of men is falling”.
In response, Minister Burton said that this year her Department will spend €297.4 million on maternity benefit and adoptive benefit, with a weekly average of 21,800 recipients.
She said that it is estimated that the number of people who will be affected in 2014 as result of the Budget 2014 change will be a weekly average of 16,500.
“Persons currently in receipt and those receiving benefit before 6 January 2014 will not be affected by the change – they will continue to receive between €217.80 and €262 per week for the duration of their leave,” she pointed out.
Burton also described Ireland’s maternity leave entitlements of over 42 weeks as “generous”, as women receive 26 weeks of paid leave and a further 16 weeks unpaid.
“This is reflected by one of the highest birth rates in Europe and high participation by women in the labour force,” said Burton.
She said that she had preserved the 26-week duration of the payment “because I realise how important this time is for families and their children”, and added that this level is in excess of the 14 weeks required under EU legislation.
“I therefore do not believe that the changes to maternity benefit announced in Budget 2014 will act as a disincentive for women from entering the labour force,” she told Creighton.