Belfast Telegraph

Government 'united over child cuts'

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has insisted the Government is united over plans to make cuts to lone parent payments.

The Labour leader rejected claims that the Social Protection Minister went rogue by threatening to reverse proposals to reduce the upper age limit for one-parent payments to a child of seven.

"The Government as a whole acts collectively," he said. "The position that was set out by the Minister of Social Protection is the position of Government."

The minister, Joan Burton, gave an ultimatum on Wednesday night, threatening to abandon Government plans drawn up in the Social Welfare Bill until she secured certain childcare provisions in the next budget.

The Tanaiste has refused to delete a section of the Bill that proposes to reduce the upper age limit to seven, despite his deputy Labour leader Ms Burton saying the age was too young.

"There is nobody in this House or this country who would leave a seven-year-old without care," said Mr Gilmore. "This legislation is not about what age you would leave a child alone. What the legislation is addressing is the age to which the lone-parent payment is payable."

Opposition TDs have accused the Government of forcing single parents to abandon their young children to return to work. Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin called on Mr Gilmore to ditch plans to reduce the upper age limit so significantly. It is set to drop gradually from 12 to 10 and finally to seven by 2014.

But the Tanaiste insisted it is necessary in the Government's long-term plan to reform the childcare system.

The Social Protection Minister admitted the decision to reduce the upper age limit was too drastic. She said she would only stick to the plans if the Government made arrangements to adopt a Scandinavian-style childcare system.

"Many of those opposed to the measures on the one-parent family payment being introduced in this Bill have said that seven is too young. Too young to leave a child alone without adequate childcare, too young for a parent to make the first steps back to the workplace and too young for the same parent to return to education or training," said Ms Burton. "I entirely agree that seven is too young for anyone to seriously contemplate any of these things."

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