Press Releases

Universal Credit And The Child Maintenance Poverty Trap

638,900 parents will fall into Child Maintenance ‘poverty trap’ under Universal Credit

says a new report by the Centre for Social Justice

Tens of thousands of separated parents are asked to make unaffordable payments

DWP’s CMS punishes them for their poverty with surcharges

The Child Maintenance formula drives family conflict and undermines shared parenting

Families Need Fathers welcome the Centre for Social Justice’s report - The Hidden Parent Poverty Trap: Child Maintenance and Universal Credit, published today (11th March 2019), highlighting how paying parents are being driven out of work to the detriment of families and their children.

Families Need Fathers experience is that the Child Maintenance formula has been failing families for many years – its assessments are often unaffordable, fuel family conflict and discourage shared parenting after family separation; They adhere to an outdated model that divides family roles between ‘mother carer’ and ‘father provider’. It is also out of alignment with Family Justice in continuing to consider one parent as a ‘Parent With Care’ and the other as a ‘Non-Resident Parent’ who is treated as a ‘single adult’ even when they care for their children 50/50. It does not reflect modern families; the way people today live their lives or wish to live their lives.

The CSJ report identifies, that there could be hundreds of thousands of cases where Child Maintenance assessments are simply unaffordable. The formula has not been reviewed since 1998 to reflect the inflationary effect of the cost of living of the paying parent. Universal Credit was designed to ensure that work always pays. However, until it takes into account the specific situation of separated parents it will continue to undermine work to the detriment of children. It also means that parents may struggle to feed or clothe themselves, fall behind not only with their rent, but also their Child Maintenance obligations. When that happens the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) surcharges them by 20%. in the manner of a pay day loan company. It would, therefore, seem likely that most people with Child Maintenance debts are also on Universal Credit or legacy benefits

Families Need Fathers hold no torch for parents who can, but do not provide care for their children or who can, but fail to, support their children. However, the assessments must be affordable, fair and realistic. This report from CSJ confirms what we have been telling government and the Work and Pensions Select Committee for a long time - that Universal Credit and the welfare benefits system cannot continue to ignore this substantial segment of the population. In January this year the minister, Amber Rudd MP, was reported to have said wanted to be “personally sure the system is working in the interests of every claimant”. FNF agree with the minister and call on the government to:

  • immediately stop surcharging the poorest and most vulnerable parents who are on state benefits

  • urgently update Chile Maintenance payment thresholds for cost-of-living increases since 1998

  • adjust Universal Credit to take into account Child Maintenance, in-line with CSJ recommendations

  • carry out a wholesale review of Child Maintenance to meet the needs of modern-day families with -particular emphasis on promoting and not undermining shared parenting.

Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers says

“For too long politicians have been hasty in branding all parents who struggle to meet their Child Maintenance demands as ‘deadbeats’. Not surprisingly this has added to conflict amongst separating parents. This CSJ report demonstrates what we have known all along – that so many of these parents have simply been struggling to keep their heads above the water in the face of a broken and abusive Child Maintenance system.

In focusing solely on the needs of receiving parents and introducing ever-tougher, but ineffective, enforcement measures, much harm has been done to families, nearly half of whom separate before their children leave school. We urge the government to take immediate action to address this before rolling-out Universal Credit further and before more families are harmed”.

ENDS

Background for Editors

FNF carried out a survey of over 800 service users in response to the Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance in 2016 and subsequently provided oral evidence to the Committee. The Committee’s report did not pick up on the key points being raised by FNF and further submissions have been made to the subsequent Inquiry into the rollout of Universal Credit. Quotations from paying parents can be found in the FNF Submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance last year – see here. Oral evidence by FNF to the Select Committee can be found here.

FNF evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in October 2017 is here.

Families Need Fathers Submission to House of Lords Scrutiny Committee of August 2018 can be found here.

House of Lords Report (response to FNF comments at paragraphs 6 and 9) – see here.

Heidi Allen MP was interviewed along with Michael Lewkowicz from Families Need Fathers about this issue alongside a spokesperson from the single parents’ charity Gingerbread in March 2017 – see here.

Last year the government published its Child Maintenance and Arrears Strategy (see here) recognised that much of the £4bn of arrears simply did not exist and had to be written-off. The strategy included more draconian enforcement action, but missed the opportunity to address the issue of affordability (see our press release of July 2018 here)

For further comment, case studies or information please contact: media@fnf.org.uk or call on 0300 0300 110.

Notes for editors:
Families Need Fathers - because both parents matter
FNF is a registered UK charity providing information and support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, and support to divorced and separated parents, irrespective of gender or marital status. FNF is NOT a fathers' rights group - we support the best interests of children - namely mature and collaborative parenting by both parents - an objective which is inadequately promoted in the family court system and associated services.

Our primary concern is the maintenance of the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents. Founded in 1974, FNF helps thousands of parents every year.

For comment, further quotations or information please contact: media@fnf.org.uk or call on 0300 0300 110.