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Child benefit changes considered

The Government's new "Poverty Tsar" has signalled that major changes to child benefit are being considered.

In an interview with a national newspaper, former Labour minister Frank Field said he was looking at linking payments to a child's age and that taxing the benefit was also an option.

Mr Field said: "In the last few days there has been a lot in the press about whether we should means-test child benefit.

"What I would like to introduce is another way of looking at this - age-relating it."

Child benefit is currently paid until a child is 19 if they are in full-time education. Parents get £20.30 a week for their eldest child and £13.40 a week for each of their other children. It costs taxpayers an estimated £11 billion a year.

Mr Field, who last week was appointed chairman of the Review of Poverty and Life Chances panel by Downing Street, suggested one area being looked at was what happened to the benefit when children reached 13 or 14. "At that age mothers feel even more engaged with work than they are with children," he said.

"They feel more secure with their children when they are over 13 and so on. If you have a crisis at work and can't be home, it's not such a disaster as when you have a seven-year-old coming home from school."

The former welfare minister also said it would be easier to tax child benefit than means-test it. "It certainly ought to be one of the options. I don't think any options should be off the table."

Birkenhead MP Mr Field has been a critic of Labour's record on tackling poverty and led the revolt against the scrapping of the 10p tax rate because of the impact it would have on the poor. A former chairman of the Child Poverty Action Group, he was given ministerial rank by Tony Blair in 1997 with a brief to "think the unthinkable" but was dropped after clashing with Gordon Brown and then social security secretary Harriet Harman over his proposals for radical reform to benefits.

The Review of Poverty and Life Chances is taxed with examining what the government can do to improve the lives of the least advantaged people in society. It is due to report to the Prime Minister by the end of the year.

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