By Sean Ryan - 30 May, 2016
“Withdrawing vital child benefit from families struggling to keep their children in school will not tackle child poverty."
The Society of St Vincent de Paul has welcomed the strong reassurances by the new Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, and the Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar, that no family will be punished by having child benefit withheld on account of poor school attendance.
In recent weeks, the SVP has echoed the concerns of the Children’s Rights Alliance over a proposal in the Programme for Government which appeared to link child benefit payments to school attendance, with families being punished by the withdrawal of child benefit if a child or children are unable to attend school.
Speaking at the weekend, the SVP’s head of Social Justice and Policy, John Mark McCafferty said, “Withdrawing vital child benefit from families struggling to keep their children in school will not tackle child poverty, a commitment in the Programme for Government. Instead it would increase deprivation and further compound the troubles facing families.”
He added, “Rather than seeking to punish parents, the SVP believes tackling child poverty requires strengthening and supporting low income families through investing in public services and income supports which facilitate parents to move into quality employment opportunities.”
Speaking about the importance of education, Mr McCafferty added, “Like the Minister, the SVP wants to see all children finish their education.”
“But this is dependent on many things – not least the provision of quality, affordable early childhood education and care for all pre-school children, investment in wider public services which lower income families rightly depend on, and the removal of barriers to education including book costs, registration fees and other school related charges.”
While the idea of linking child benefit payments and school attendance had initially been part of the Programme for Government, the new Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar said the plan would not improve school attendance.
Answering questions in the Dáil last week, Mr Varadkar said that while there would be reforms, it would not entail linking the two.
He said he had come to that decision after meeting with Children’s Minister, Katherine Zappone.
“The common view that we have is that those who are involved in education welfare and involved in monitoring truancy do not believe that giving them a further tool in which to enforce good attendance by withholding child benefit would be useful.”
The Opposition, and in particular the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA), had been critical of the idea, saying it was punitive.
They said the idea was “based on punishing individuals, rather than investing in developing a society with necessary supports to ensure high school attendance. Families and parents need support, not the punishment of deeper poverty.”