Alex Attwood wants child benefit cut opposed

Media caption,
George Osborne: "When we're asking so much of so many people across society I think it is a fair measure"

NI Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has said he is hopeful Chancellor George Osborne's proposals for child benefit cuts can be stopped.

On Monday morning, Mr Osborne confirmed child benefit is to be axed for higher rate taxpayers from 2013.

Parents earning more than about £44,000 who pay 40% tax and above will be affected and Mr Osborne said the move would save about £1bn.

But Mr Attwood said he was hopeful MPs would oppose the plans.

"None of this has gotten through the House of Commons yet, people should remember there's a coalition government," Mr Attwood said.

"At the end of the day any welfare reform or benefit cuts are subject to the will of the Westminster parliament and there's a lot of opposition over there.

"There has been a very strong response to many of the welfare cuts that went after the poor in the emergency budget in June, to the point that I think some of those proposals are going to be stopped in their tracks.

"In any case, there's a good argument for Northern Ireland, given our circumstances, that some of this stuff shouldn't some down the tracks.

"That's what me and the other ministers will do, argue robustly the case for Northern Ireland."

'Big decision'

Talking on BBC One's Breakfast ahead of his appearance at the Conservative party conference, the chancellor, Mr Osborne, said: "It's a big decision for us, but we think it's absolutely necessary and fair given the financial situation we face."

It is estimated the change will affect about 15% - 1.2m - families across the UK.

Mr Osborne said: "It's very hard to justify taxing people on much lower incomes in order to pay the child benefit to some of the better off in our society."

He confirmed the cut would hit homes with a single or two high earners. But families with two parents on modest incomes - which might add up to over £44,000 - will keep the benefit.

He defended this by saying his plan was "the most straightforward" option - which avoided means testing.

Currently child benefit is paid to all families with children.

Image caption,
Alex Attwood hoped the plans wouldn't pass the Commons

Mr Osborne said he expected the public to accept that it was not fair to tax someone earning £18,000 a year to pay child benefit to someone earning £50,000.

'In it together'

"It's not a decision we've taken lightly, but given the scale of the debts Labour's left us with, and given they've left us with no plan and we've had to come up with proposals, we think this is fair.

"It means we're all in this together. Each part of society is going to be making a contribution"

At the moment, parents are paid £20.30 a week for the eldest child and £13.40 for subsequent children, with payments continuing until the age of 19 for those in full-time education.

"I understand these people are not super-rich, but we have to make sure that we're all in this together," he said.

The chancellor insisted this was a "one-off" measure and did not mark the end of the principle of universal benefits which have underpinned the welfare state for many decades.

Under the proposed changes, a family where both parents are earning just under £44,000 will continue to receive child benefit while a family where only one person is working and whose income is just above £44,000 will lose the payment.

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.

However, Mr Osborne urged top rate taxpayers to stop claiming child benefit altogether, saying this would be the "most sensible" thing to do.

Mr Osborne announced in June's budget that the child benefit would be frozen for three years.

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