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Child benefit payments only cover 11 per cent of costs in some cases

A new survey shows the cost of raising children is at its highest during infancy and then again when they are in secondary school.

Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A NEW SURVEY has revealed major differences in the costs incurred by parents, depending on the ages of their children.

As a result, child benefit can cover as little as 11 per cent of those costs or as much as 67 per cent.

A child is particularly expensive while in infancy but many of these costs fall off as they reach pre-school and primary school age. However, the bills begin to gradually rise again in the pre-teen and teenage years.

According to a recent study entitled The Cost of a Child by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice (VPSJ), expenditure fluctuates because of the needs of children at particular ages and locations. Important factors also include the employment status of the parents and the subsequent need for childcare.

At €144.92 per week, a child at an urban secondary school has the highest weekly costs. This figure falls slightly to €140.20 for those in more rural areas. When a child enters adolescence, there is an across-the-board increase in costs for food, education, communications, social inclusion and participation.

A pre-school child is the least expensive with costs of between €48 and €50, depending on location.

However, if childcare bills are factored in, a child’s costs are higher in infancy and pre-school. In an urban area, a weekly average could be as high as €296.13 for infants and €223.87 for toddlers.

Child benefit accounts for just 11 per cent of the cost of an infant in an urban household if childcare is required. This rises to 35 per cent if it is not necessary.

Child benefit payments are at their most effective in homes with toddlers that have no childcare requirements.

Regardless of childcare costs, child benefit payments only cover 22 to 23 per cent of expenditure on post-primary school teens.

“It can be argued that child benefit and current social welfare rates are arbitrary, in that they have been decided by Government officials and other policy makers without any sense of what it actually costs to raise a child,” said Dr Bernadette MacMahon of VPSJ. “This study attempts to overcome this information deficit by providing data on the direct cost of raising a child from infancy to mid second level school age.”

The survey also noted 13 areas of expenditure directly related to the child, such as food, clothing and school expenses. It excluded anything that was shared with parents, including heating or the use of a family car.

McMahon added, “What this data demonstrates is that costs generally increase as children grow older but social welfare and CB payments remain static (except for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance). Therefore consideration needs to be given to the possibility of introducing different levels of payment at different stages of childhood, particularly at adolescence, with no reduction in payments for children in the intervening years.”

The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice was established in 1996 to work for social and economic change tackling poverty and social exclusion. It consists of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Congregation, the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of the Holy Faith.

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