Child Benefit Payments Cut for UK High-Rate Taxpayers

The BBC report on the UK Chancellor’s decision to axe child benefits from top-rate taxpayers. Rates in Ireland are approximately 150 per child per month (but vary with family size) and are paid universally regardless of family income for each child aged under 16 or under 18 and in full-time education. Like any universal payment of this nature, there is the obvious question as to why people on higher incomes should be receiving a transfer payment from the state. A less obvious question is what we mean by higher incomes and where the threshold should be set. Expenditure on this scheme is approximately 2.3 billion euro in Ireland. Those arguing to keep the benefit as it stands might question why we will end up subsidising John Terry’s wages (see Karl’s post below) while cutting benefits from mothers and children. I am not sure I have an answer to that one either. If we do have to cut, then I would rather it be from people like me with above average salaries and for schemes like child benefit that don’t have an obvious reason to be universal rather than from well-targeted schemes.

61 replies on “Child Benefit Payments Cut for UK High-Rate Taxpayers”

The non-means tested nature of child benefit (CB) is not as dumb people often think. Take-up of CB is very high, probably close to 100%. When you means test benefits take-up falls significantly: in other words people who are entitled to benefits because they are not well-off end up not receiving them, see for example Blundell, Fry, Walker (EJ 1988) which report take-up rates for housing benefits between 50-70%. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has done a lot of work on this, I don’t know about Ireland. Stigma may play a part in this non-take up.
So CB is a good way of getting money into low income households and paying CB to some rich people may be a price we have to pay to ensure that.

@Kevin Denny

If that is the case , then perhaps tax CB at top rate – & sort the ICT systems by next budget ….

@Liam Delaney

.. makes sense.

On average, wouldnt the average homeowner/parent have both bought a house since 200X and be paying Childcare.
In a double income family childcare costs need to be measured too.
Under hardship AL

Also–how much extra does it costs to administer if there is a means test?

Ditto for university fees, medical cards above a certain age.

Same issues, plus KD’s point that with a means test there can be substantial fall-out of the very people who most need the support in question.

Though–surely a computer program could be implemented such that if reported income was above a certain amount no CB would apply. The person would not have to “apply” for the benefit, but the govt computers would do the math. . . Is this rocket science? Couldn’t this apply for other potential benefits as well?

I agree with KD – don’t means test it – and KOD – tax it. Means testing is a depressing procedure which only inflates social welfare bureaucracy. Taxing it is simpler, not to mention that giving the impression that some parts of society pay nothing and get everything and others pay everything and get nothing is socially divisive.

I am open to correction here, but I understood Child Benefit to be a legacy issue dating back to much different times.

Firstly there was a marriage bar, where a woman who got married was expected to surrender her job and work in the family home raising children. The Child benefit payment was a sort of financial recognition by the state to the mother for this sacrifice. While it was not much money at least it was something. Am I correct in this train of thought?

Secondly the state had a declining population, so it was in the interests of the state to promote and encourage a “pro birth” agenda, otherwise the state could reach such a low population limit that it would be unable to function as a state.

Today things are much different, women have educational opportunities just as much as men, two female presidents, female Gardai, female officers in the Defence Forces, female Judges, female airline pilots etc etc. I am not aware of any job a woman cannot do if she puts her mind to it. The marriage bar is consigned to history.

So perhaps another look at the idea of child benefit is required, instead of a payment, maybe a tax credit?

Another argument for universality is administrative simplicity. I wonder how low the income threshold must be in order to make a ‘profit’ for the government.

2.3 billion!

lets say a quarter are taken out of the net – thats about 600 million – administrative costs surely couldn’t put a big dent in that.

Besides would means testing not need to be done for other programs for some of these people anyways?

I don’t know anything about how means testing is done, but having peoples tax records must be a good start

+1 on the comment “the impression that some parts of society pay nothing and get everything and others pay everything and get nothing is socially divisive.”

Some benefits should either not exist or should be universal.

The administrative difficulty with taxing CB probably extends to questions like this..”should we pay PRSI on the Children’s Allowance?”

Great. I pay higher rate taxes for ten years before I have children. I still pay them now that I have them. And now the transfer back of some of that tax money I’ve already paid is removed, just when the children become expensive and my tax rates are rising again?

It may be progressive, but is it ‘fair’?

@KD point well made. Also means testing usually requires a certain level of organisation and literacy skills. Those who fall through the cracks are unfortunately usually the ones who need the means-tested payment most.

@OAC I contacted the then Department of Social & Family Affairs to attempt to cost means testing (NGOs were asked to decide between taxing & means testing benefits in advance of last year’s budget by MoDSFA Hanafin). I was told that there was no estimate but that means testing could potentially cost more than it would save.

The government would probably prefer to tax the payment but there are constitutional and legal difficulties with that. If taxed, it could be construed as a payment for the care & upkeep of the child. This could then open the door for at-home parents to seek the opportunity to access the social welfare system and contributory pension for periods of time spent at home looking after children.

Child benefit is, after all, a payment which helps ensure that children have a basic income. Its universal nature gives it a high level of acceptance. At the same time, it is recognised as significantly decreasing children’s risk of exposure to poverty. If we are to replace the current system with another, we need to ensure that any new system will not cost more than the current one and that it should deliver at least the same if not better outcomes.

@Sporthog: in terms of the history of child benefit, you aren’t correct. CB was introduced by Sean Lemass in 1943 as far as I am aware it was a direct copy of the equilavent UK and was inspired principally by child welfare concerns rather than any concerns about the welfare of women. The marraige bar was introduced over a decade earlier.

Child benefit rates grew radically during the celtic tiger period, but at the same time the child dependent allowance paid to social welfare claimants was frozen on the grounds that contributing to the costs of rearing children via the former rather than the latter would not reinforce the unemployment trap.

In view of the state of the public finances I think there is an strong argument for introducing some method of means testing or clawing back child benefit, but doing so in an equitable way is challenging.

In cases where the parents are not married ascertaining the household income for taxation/ means testing purposes is challenging (look at the problems associated with administering Lone Parent’s Allowance). Any system which distriminated against married couples would face uproar and probably legal challenges.

Just watched the Osborne speech – the more interesting benefit move is the cap on total benefits to be not more than the average industrial wage without any equivalence scale being applied (i.e. large families have more benefits mainly due to kids but the cap is not going to adjust to take family size, or presence of a dependent like a disabled parent, into account). Stephanie Flanders of the BBC does a good job of dissecting all of this in her ‘stephanomics’ blog – see


I think it’s fair to say (given the CB was issued in the mother’s name) that in many households in days not long gone by it ensured the wife (and thereby the children, obviously) had an meagre income not dependent on the whim of the husband.

Perhaps we could make a start at tackling the fact that third and subsequent children get more per head than the first and second children.

I like to give the example of a household with 2 children and they pay for everything. To rent their family home, each child pays 50 euro rent. But when the parents have a 3rd child, rent is still 100 euro only now each child pays 33 euro each. I would have thought policy-makers would have been aware of these sort of economies of scale.

damienr – doesn’t always work that way though. A 2+2 household can probably choose to continue to drive a small car if they own such; go north of 2 and you’re likely to be looking at a minivan as more of a necessity. A larger house may need to be considered once bunk beds are no longer an option. I don’t have kids yet but I’m sure parents reading here can weigh in with similar pinch points.

Economies of scale by having lots of children! That’s a new one on me. I have 3 under 10 and I suppose the elder does some (paid) child labour like tidy his room. And I suppose there is the use of hand-me-down clothes.

Seriously, economies of scale in children…..?

@Danny Haskins

due to ‘failure’ of its ‘duty of care’ – is state policy responsible for the recent increase in abortion rates amongst women who already have children? … the correlations will bear me out …….

I’d rear a lot of children for 90 billion Euros … let’s nor forget why we are here … and trying to figure out how to ‘cherish the children of the nation’ i…

@ Mark Dowling,

Indeed there were a few issues in the past, like the husband could sell the house over the wifes head to pay off a gambling problem or debts due to drink etc. However I believe C.Haughey changed that many years ago.

There is still some legacy issues today, for example the husband is legally responsible for the tax affairs of his wife. Not that it really means anything these days.

As I understand the BBC story, conventional means-testing is not being suggested by the Chancellor.

“The chancellor defended this by saying his plan was “the most straightforward” option – which would avoid across-the-board means testing. The alternative was to introduce a “complex” system of means testing where all households had their incomes assessed, he said.
People will be expected to declare on their tax returns whether they fall within the 40% and 50% tax brackets and the money will then be clawed back through the tax system.”

I agree with Colm that the more interesting announcement is the maximum limit on benefits: “The limit will be set according to this very simple principle: Unless they have disabilities to cope with, no family should get more from living on benefits than the average family gets from going out to work”.

According to Stephanie Flanders: “By excluding families claiming Disability Living Allowance, the government is giving some protection to families … though it’s worth pointing out that other benefits such as Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit will be included.”

The BBC have further details below on the child benefit issue. One basic issue that is brewing is how to actually ensure that people on high incomes don’t claim the benefit. Cross-referencing benefit and tax records sounds complex. One suggestion is just to put a big sign on the form saying something “YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO THIS IF YOU ARE IN THE TOP TAX BRACKET”, or words to that effect. For most people simply telling them you are no longer entitled will be enough. I have no idea what administration costs the Irish government could be thinking about. Ideally, you would like to tax child benefit to remove the threshold kink effects but means-testing it is not going to discourage people earning 60k plus a year to stay in the labour market.

The earnings cap that Colm and Martin refer to will affect about 50,000 people as it extends to families earning above 26,000 pounds without having a salary. Coupled with the exemptions Martin mentions above, it is hard to see how you could quibble with this. We certainly can’t rule out that there are people earning more than 26,000 sterling from benefits alone who might be in genuine hardship if they are brought down to 26k but nothing convincing written about this yet.

Osborne’s proposal to place an upper limit on welfare is an interesting turn of events and sensible. A salary, unlike welfare, is not based on the number of dependents. Will it effect the labour market? Will the Lenihan rush to copy it?


I should have been explicit in echoing Colm’s emphasis on Stephanie Flander’s take on the announcement:

While I think the cap is a welcome policy-direction, it may be possible to change the details to make it somewhat fairer. As it stands, there are some potentially undesirable outcomes for households with large numbers of children, and households claiming Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

On the whole though, Osborne’s announcement from earlier today (about the cap) is the most imaginative response that I have yet seen to concerns about welfare traps.

While both measures (the CB claw-back and the cap) will make only minor dents in a deficit expected to total Stg£150 billion this year (Irish Times:, there could be a massive psychological boost to low-earners who have been unable to qualify for (as much) benefit.

We are as a nation between a rock and a hard place. We spend over 2.5b pa on Child Benefit, and everyone realises that there are plenty of families who don’t actually need it, yet still get it paid. The equity of whether this should continue is determined by the opportunity costs in terms of cuts elsewhere that would be required to continue these payments. So it should be self evident that it’s fairer to cut than not, and that whilst different systems may not be perfectly equitable within themselves, they will provide more equity than not cutting.

Unlike the UK we will not be able to wait until 2013 to begin implementing these cuts.

So to start with and keep it as simple as possible say that any child benefit payable to taxpayers on higher rate tax is taxable at 20%, leaving the rest unchanged until 2012?
So to begin with why not

Couples where one person stays at home will suffer.£45k per year for a Family is not rich by any means. Remember these familes can no reduction on council tax bills either.

According to channel 4, a single earner (family) earning between £44k and £46.5 would be better off asking for a pay cut to bring them below £44k – A disincentive to work?

This saves 1 Billion; the justification is that it is not fair for someone earning £20K to be indirectly subsiding the middle classes. How much would be raised by lowered the thresholf for the 50% tax to £100k or £125K.


I should have been explicit in echoing Colm’s emphasis on Stephanie Flander’s take on the announcement. While I think the cap is a welcome policy-direction, it may be possible to change the details to make it somewhat fairer. As it stands, there are some potentially undesirable outcomes for households with large numbers of children, and households claiming Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.

On the whole though, Osborne’s announcement from earlier today (about the cap) is the most imaginative response that I have yet seen to concerns about welfare traps.

While both measures (the CB claw-back and the cap) will make only minor dents in a deficit expected to total Stg£150 billion this year (Irish Times:, there could be a massive psychological boost to low-earners who have been unable to qualify for (as much) benefit.

Means testing universal benefits so that they are only available to the poor is a sure-fire way of undermining support for the welfare state as if only a small proportion of the population benefit from it public support for it will fall. Then later on they can cut the rate without any hassles as only the poorest and least powerful will protest. That’s why right wing governments always attack universality and why it’s such an important principle to uphold.

Similarly, it is also much easier to abolish a non-universal payment altogether. An example is bin waivers which were promised to remain in place permanently for the poor but have now been abolished in many areas without that much of a fuss. This followed the classic trajectory of first abolish the universal benefit (free bin collection) & then cut or abolish the means-tested benefit.

But then you would favourise the stay-at-home parent over the two-incomes; the at-home parent would be able to benefit from tax individualisation based on that income while the others wouldn’t (unless the latters’ second income came under the threshold).

For God’s sake, let’s work out the marginal tax rates (or the marginal return to an hour worked in the taxed economy) implied by any of these changes.

@Aine, according to the BBC Osbourne’s child benefit proposals have been heavily criticised for discriminating against single income earners. A single income household with an income of £50k will no longer quality for CB but a family with two incomes of £40k will!

In relation to the other points raised about the ConDem’s plan to limit the total amount of benefits which can be claimed by a single household, this isn’t new, it has been a consistent theme in their reforms to date. For instance their reforms to housing benefit announced in the last budget introduced similiar limits which mean that it is now impossible for housing benefit claimants to rent a family sized house in London. I attended a semimar on housing benefit just after the UK budget and the consensus among UK experts in the field is that these reforms targetted ethnic minority households, since the vast majority of large families claiming benefits are from this background.

The big mistake was increasing CB to the level that it is. The correct policy would be to keep it a lower cash payment and channel money into service provision e.g. hot breakfasts/supervised homework clubs in disadvantaged areas. That would target children who needed support without subsidising the well-off.

Anything to be said for generally introducing compulsory annual individual (or at least household) tax returns? That way, a lot of the administrative and incentive arguments against fiddling with the current system would fall by the wayside…

+ 1 Sarah, The amount of money going into support for families at ‘risk’ (ie of having their children taken into care) is absolutely tiny and remained close to static during the boom. This is despite the fact that programmes of this type such as Springboard have been very positively evaluated. Look what the free pre school year has achieved for a tiny spend compared to CB. 97% take up and it is keeping lots of preschools in bussiness which would have gone to the wall without it.

A hungry child needs breakfast. Urban breakfast clubs will only help those who can get to them.

If child benefit is ,means tested it will make rich people with childern worse off than rich people without childern. While it is reasonable to favour the poor over the rich is it not reasonable discriminate in favour of rich people with childern over rich people without childern and therefor better off as they do not have the expenses of rearing childern. We have tax relief for bicycles and public transport to work, waste charges trade union subscriptions, nursing home fees, etc. It is not unreasonable to take into account the cost of rearing childern in assessing tax/benefits of persons on equal incomes but different needs.

“A benefit for the poor would me a poor benefit”. Divide and conquer, public sector against private, middle class against poor, native born against immigrants. And it’s working, the neoliberal task of abolishing the welfare state will soon be accomplished. “There is no alternative” after all.

Bock – the problem is that if UK couples defer having kids until they can “afford it”, they might run into needing IVF-on-NHS or their kids having higher risk of disability – false economy.

After all, benefit economics are a ponzi scheme some kids are required to pay for the incoming retiree pool, preferably ones that will actually pay in, as opposed to those born to parents irrespective if they can afford it and in circumstances which largely doom both them and their offspring to life on benefits. The reality of the rights based culture of the present day means that to give some a fair go others must it seems be allowed to skive.

I see reports that say this claw back cannot be implemented because the gov’t does not have the data at hand and will not be able to get it in the near future. The world looks at this incompetence and runs up our cost of money accordingly. I once worked for a government that imposed a spending freeze on a Monday morning without notice that lasted five months as we cut operating and capital costs. Buyouts offered to anyone over 55, the carrot being no penalty for going early of your own volition but if we lay you off our compassion will have definite bounds. Many people left, the ROI of laying people off is astounding. The gov’t is digging the hole deeper every day, probably waiting for the collapse wthin one to two years and then they will be pointing the finger at the big bad IMF, European Commission anything to deflect blame from their own incompetence.

I’ve always felt that paying child benefit without taxing or means testing it had much the same practical impact as providing income tax credits/allowances for dependent children, as I believe happens in many other countries.

My gut feel is that few people would target income tax allowances for dependent children for elimination if we had them; the objection seems to come from the form of the transfer rather than the underlying substance, which, for me, makes the logic doubtful.

Anyone care to comment on whether they would target income tax credits for dependent children for eliminination if we had them?


There are few children who don’t go to school. I know someone involved with a particular early childcare programme subsidised by the state and they feared a state proposal (I think now abandoned – must check) to pay the subsidy to the parents instead of the service providers – it meant the bad parents (and hence of the child who needed it most) would squander the money and not care if the child ever went to the programme. When the service is provided “for free” to the parent, to participation rate was much higher. The policy of giving everyone cash and letting them sort themselves out (in the name of “choice) abandoned any sense of duty towards children who needed help.
Massive state intervention for 2 yrs + : early education, socialisation, nutrition etc does far more for equality of opportunity and rescuing kids than cash transfers to the middle class. Of course, the middle classes are the shriekers and the voters so that’s why we have a crazy CB of €150 per child and let the poor kids rot.
But that ‘s how we got here today – votes auctioned off. Of course, any time I’ve suggested this in the past I’ve been called right wing, which also shows how retarded our political development is.

btw, you can have hot breakfasts in rural areas too.

Dan O’Brien was bang on last night – let’s go back to 2005. What was wrong with that year? We were doing fine.

We already had tax allowances for children. These were replaced by the child benefit since it was noted that the allowances applied differentially and benefited those on higher incomes most. The universal payment, on the other hand, by benefiting all equally, made a greater difference to those on lower incomes. We already have child tax credits, but for single parents only. A refundable tax credit could replace the child benefit but this would presumably be payable per year rather than weekly.

By all means, use the school infrastructure. But that will still mean opening 7 days per week and running long days, with implications for patrons and the management of schools; it may also incur capital costs to upgrade facilities or add kitchen/dining halls. However, what would it say about society that we would be willing to institutionalise the feeding of children but not ensure that the tax/social welfare system provide a method for parents of putting breakfast on the table?

The point about rural areas is, again, that the people who most need the breakfast will be the least likely to have access to the transport to get them to it. This means that, if you are set on this option, transport to breakfast will also have to be provided. Pretty soon you’re providing cornflakes at the cost of a full fry.

NICHD research in the US shows that only short weeks (less than 30 hrs/wk) of good quality early years’ education result in positive social, cognitive and behavioural outcomes for children. Parenting, on the other hand, especially the relative responsiveness and attentiveness of the mother, accounts for the bulk of variation in outcomes.

It costs, according to the IT, €250,000 to raise a child. Whatever your politics, you can’t get around the fact that we require a certain amount of net income to feed, house and clothe our children.

Kevin’s argument about universality is vital to avoiding unintended consequences when making adjustments to this payment. However the CB payment isn’t without administrative burden – it must be claimed and administered, all be it without the burden of means-testing. In this case, the most cost efficient way to adjust payments to higher income groups might be along the lines that Liam mentioned: ask households to complete and sign a basic income declaration form at their local post-office/welfare-center, annually. Thus compliance will mediated socially; at little cost to the exchequer.

Another point is the general need to reconsider the ‘economies of scale’ within the household. Here, the first child already gets a different rate to the third child but these figures appear arbitrary and totally out of line with the UK (they may even be the inverse). A few basic stats from our quarterly household budget survey might be useful, in the first instance, in determining reasonable rates that take account of the cost structures of the household. This would be one route to coming around to the cap idea that considers family size in a equitable fashion.


This transport issue is a red herring. I live in a rural area. Everyone goes to school. Nor does it have to be 7 days a week. 5 is fine. It’s still easier than means-testing and taxing and its targeted.

As for 250k, (which I don’t believe, but that’s another day’s work) I don’t think its the state’s responsibility to fund people’s decisions to have children. I think its the state’s duty to ensure that all children have a fair shot at life and those unfortunate enough to be born to either bad parents or very poor parents get the help they need to catch up with the rest.

With regard to the research I think the issue is that for pre-school children, early education does not have a huge impact on outcomes where the home environment is good. Where the home environment is poor (either financially, neglect or also – and not discussed much, where the mother is depressed – early education has a really important affect on outcome. Anyway, the point is: there is feck all the government can do to change bad parents who themselves had bad parents. They are a lost cause. All you can do is intervene and try and save the next generation.
In the meantime, giving cash to couples so they can set up a long term savings account and save for their children’s third level education and thus confer advantage on those already advantaged is obscene.
Simplest thing is cut the payment and try and ringfence some of the savings for targeted intervention.
Otherwise taxing, but I understand the complexity involved.

The moral and economic reasons given by some of the above posts for maintaining CB for people on above average incomes is to put it mildly “a bit Irish”. Nice to see some things haven’t changed.

Sarah is correct the only reason it is so high is because (as we can see above) the middle classes are the shriekers and the voters.

She is also correct is sighting the brilliant and extremely cost effective work done by breakfast and homework clubs in areas of disadvantage which I have see in action first hand. Part of any savings should be used to keep these running.

@Peter Carney

hmmmm. What was the outcome of asking pensioners to give up those medical cards? They were asked to “voluntarily” hand them in if their incomes was over the threshold.

Hi Liam,
I’m afraid that today, I disagree with you.

Firstly, I doubt there will be a tremendous saving from means-testing child benefit. Not only will there be relatively few children in families earning above 100k a year (a figure cited several times by pundits), but the costs of assessment will reduce it further.

However, even leaving those objections aside, I am also opposed to the whole concept in principle (taxing child benefit would get around the problems i just outlined). €30 per week is not a lot of extra money to pay for raising a child, and even wealthy families might adjust their family planning if they knew that they would not be entitled to child benefit (Although this might take the form of encouraging one parent to quit their job and stay at home).

I feel that there are easier targets for cutbacks than child benefit. In particular, I do not share the widespread reluctance to tackle pensioners, who enjoy a raft of benefits, no childrearing costs, no accommodation costs -all before they receive their pension. I mean, surely the free TV licence could be dropped without the sky falling?

I refer you to the ILO’s concept of a social floor. The past experiments of extensive social welfare/services are not optimal, and neither are the social safety nets which seek to stop people falling through the cracks. It turns out that it is both extremely expensive and highly ineffective to target those who most require intervention. Furthermore, it tends to get more expensive the more difficult a person is to target; what then is to happen when we need to cut services? Many researchers are coming around to the notion of the social floor, i.e. universal provision of basic services while ensuring access to a certain basic income.

“Social policy itself needs to be coherent, in the sense of avoiding too narrow a
focus on social protection and targeting of the poor, and leaning more towards
universalism (creating a “social floor” for people of all ages), and ensuring conditions for continuous progress in human development…”

We could use the same arguments as you use above against universal maternity care. Of course most middle-class women could afford to pay for their maternity/obstetric care themselves, but the universality of the maternity system in Ireland has worked: it provides high-quality care and the best (or second best) outcomes for mothers and babies in the world whatever their income.

The principle I suggest Ireland adopt is that any change to the current system should retain insofar as is possible the same outcomes at the same or less cost. CB is one of the success stories in addressing the worst child poverty. We should not lose sight of this, however popular it is with the middle classes. (I am not in favour of keeping CB in its current form btw.)

Although high-quality early years’ education helps disadvantaged children significantly, the differential with non-disadvantaged children is maintained and even increased when the latter get good-quality EYE.

There is an example of extremely good practice in the US Sarah, the Chicago Parent-Child centers ( One of the reasons it is good practice is that it addresses the difficulties of parents and helps them support their children into education. It is an expensive but highly effective way to proceed, as opposed to expensive but unproven interventions otherwise cobbled together in an ad-hoc way.

We waste money in plenty of ways. Why pick on CB? At least it goes as directly as possible under current arrangements to the child. I seem to remember that the cost to the taxpayer of Anglo alone is going to be €35 bn, nearly the cost of CB 0-18 for an entire generation.

If the government have reached the conclusion that it is impossible to means test or tax child benefit in a fair way, I have a suggestion for a fairer way of achieving savings. Focus the cuts on children over 5. This could be easily achieved administratively as CB is linked to each child’s PPS number. The rationale for this proposal is that is recognises the fact that many parents (mainly mothers) wish to care full time for pre school children and among households where all parents work, childcare costs for pre school children are a very significant burden. In my experience (not based on any research evidence – I must examine the data on this) parents of young children are also most likely to have large mortgages.

I think you may have difficulty pulling together data on mortgage by family size and child age. You could talk to the QNHS crowd at the CSO Census 2011 is currently in preparation so you could see if you may be able to get information that way. The census will only ask whether you have a mortgage or not. Also Permanent TSB/ESRI produce reports on house prices this but in my experience the stats are not sufficiently disaggregated to make the type of analysis you want to make. Eurofound might be interested in investigating this (

The banks themselves have this data of course but I don’t know if they make it available to researchers.

After a damming discussion on Newsnight, it looks very much to me like the Tories may be made to climb down from this particular proposal.

I don’t know about the history of child benefit in Ireland but I do know about Australia (and think the UK history is broadly similar). Recognition of children started off in the tax system on the basis of ability to pay – it was argued that at all income levels the presence of dependent children reduced capacity to pay income tax, so initially there were deductions for children (whose value was greater for those in higher marginal tax brackets) but in 1974 these were then turned into rebates which have the same value across brackets, but don’t help those who don’t pay tax or who have incomes not high enough to benefit from the full rebate. From 1941 there was also a universal (after the second child) but smaller payment of child endowment. In 1975 both child endowment and tax rebates for children were turned into a more generous and universal system of family allowances – this actually helped low income families the most because they couldn’t fully benefit from tax measures – and it also directed all of the assistance to mothers (usually).
So the principal of universality is based on the fundamental idea that at all income levels the presence of children reduces capacity to pay tax or increases need.
Australia income-tested family allowances in 1987 but it is not only restricted to the poor – about 80% of families receive payments – but there is a two stage income test: benefits reduce from about 60% of average earnings until they reach a lower flat rate, and they then are not further income-tested until family income is about twice average earnings, after which they reduce to zero.
Income-testing was chosen over taxing because it was thought to be more equitable since we basically have an individual based tax system. The final details of how they propose to do it in the UK are not clear but if they remove it from higher rate taxpayers only, the inequities are clear. A family where one earner earned over £44,000 would lose child benefit no matter what their spouse was earning, while a family where both members of a couple earned £43,000 would keep the full amount.

The decision to cut benefit was correct but flawed as 2 parent families who both earned 44999GBP
each were exempt from the cut, whereas with 1 wage earner who earned 45000GBP lost the benefit,

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