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Minister promises to take 'significant' action in the next Budget to pull thousands of children out of poverty

The minister gave a strong indication there will not be a repeat of the €5 increase in social welfare payments in the next Budget.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty
Image: Sam Boal

SOCIAL PROTECTION MINISTER Regina Doherty said she is prepared to do something “significant” in the next Budget to pull some 112,000 children out of poverty.

The minister also gave a strong indication there will not be a repeat of the €5 increase to all weekly social welfare payments which was announced in last year’s Budget.

“I am certainly not naive to think that when we increased the qualified child payment last year by €2 that it was going to have a significant impact. It was near the top of the list last year – it is absolutely top of my list this year,” she said.

The minister also had harsh words about how government is not tackling the issue of child poverty in Ireland.

“I am very conscious that every time we sit down and have round table discussions with NGOs there are 112,000 children living in consistent poverty. That number is not coming down. The reason it is not coming down is because we are not addressing it and attacking it. That is something that I am very conscious of doing this year.”

Doherty said the figure is “stubbornly not moving” and every department, including her own, must take responsibility.

‘Significant’ measures

“We have targets to take those children out of child poverty by 2020 and that is only two years away. So if we don’t do something significant this year –  and I mean significant this year – then we are not going to reach that target and that is not something I can sit easy with.

“It is not just my department, there have to be significant changes in other departments. That is not a criticism of anybody. We are all collectively responsible for those 112,000 and it means significant action has to be taken,” said Doherty.

When pressed about what drastic action she is planning in October, the minister said he has plans, but would not be sharing them just yet.

However, she added:

It’s not rocket science. We know the challenges that single income, low-income and no income families are facing on a daily basis and we just have to try and address this.

A recent Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report found that as a result of changes to the One Parent Family Payment, lone parents who were forced to take up work suffered a fall in income by 1.9% while their non-employed counterparts saw no change.

Doherty said she has to be “pragmatic” and “realistic” as the Budget negotiations kick off.

Policy changes down the line

“Given that there is only €800 million to spend and there is a ratio of 2:1 and I don’t have first dibs on everything that is left, I think that I have to be pragmatic about it,” she said, adding that her department have big policy changes coming down the track in the coming years – changes which will cost money.

“Significant policy changes have to be made in this department at some stage, maybe this year won’t be the year, but we need to address the fact there isn’t parental leave,” said the minister, highlighting that Ireland has signed up to an EU Directive to introduce paternity leave, six weeks for each parent, by 2021.

“I am not ruling anything in or out but if you have an acknowledgement and an acceptance that we are going to do what we have done for the last number of years, which was increase all payments by €5, that tots up to about €343 million. It doesn’t leave much of the €800 million when you break down the ratio of 2:1. So I am trying to be realistic and practical.

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