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Universal Benefits and Youth Justice

15 October 2008

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: The budget is most regrettable and regressive, as other speakers on this side have said. There is an immense amount of hardship and pain to be suffered, much of it hidden in small print and in back door measures. There will be a slow burn of anger as people realise the true impact of the budget on them, their incomes and their family and household incomes. We will see a long-term impact, unfortunately.

One element has not been highlighted although some speakers have touched upon it. It deserved to be highlighted and we should debate it because it appears to be a new and especially regressive policy of the Minister and of this Government. That policy is to do away with universal social benefits and instead to introduce means testing. The Minister has introduced means testing for those over 70 years of age in respect of health benefits and has effectively introduced means testing for other social benefits and separate elements. He abolished the child care supplements for children over 5 and a half years of age and child benefit payments for students over 18 and has introduced a vastly increased student registration charge.

I have a question and it is of particular concern. The Minister has asked the Commission on Taxation to examine more generally the payment of universal child benefit. Does this mean he will extend this apparent attack on universal benefit provision in a most regrettable way to child benefit payments? As legislators we deserve to know this and if it is the Minister's intention we should have a debate on the matter. If that is the case, it should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. It is a most regressive measure to start means testing for all sorts of State benefits and it will lead to greater inequity and inequality.

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on youth justice. At this time of cutbacks and closures it is important that the House should debate what will happen to young offenders who are a particularly vulnerable group. In that context, I and Deputy O'Rourke will co-host a seminar on youth justice tomorrow at 11.30 a.m. in the audiovisual room. The meeting will be addressed by a leading academic expert in the field from University College Cork and will be facilitated by the Irish Penal Reform Trust. All colleagues are welcome and I urge Senators to come along, even for a short time, or to send assistants if they wish to learn about development in the difficult area of youth justice or whether plans to build Thornton Hall and children detention centres will proceed in the current economic climate.