Housing support needs to be available to both parents providing care
Unaffordable Child Maintenance assessments push parents into poverty
There are disincentives to work – worse under Universal Credit which has not even considered the problem.
The Child Maintenance Formula needs to work for separated families – for both parents and children alike
Families Need Fathers welcome the report, ‘Separated parents and the social security system’ just published by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It is the first time a Government agency has looked
into Child Maintenance including the perspective of the paying parent. The report’s conclusions are damning.
Almost half of parents separate before their children leave school. 3.9 million children live with separated parents. However, instead of looking at the issues faced by all 5 million separated parents and their children, successive governments have considered dads as outsiders...instead of parents who are needed by their children to play an active part in raising them’. Many so-called ‘single parents’ are not sole parents.
SSAC’s report identifies key issues that we have been telling successive governments for years – there simply is no strategy defined for separated parents. This neglect is now made plain by the Government’s own
advisory agency report . Policies to date have assumed that one parent is always a provider, and the other, a carer. Such policies do not reflect the reality or diversity of modern family life. Neither do they reflect a stated desire for gender equality. ‘Hostile sanctions’ policies have contributed to the ongoing failure of the Child Maintenance system - above all to children at a very stressful times for them and their parents.
Families Need Fathers welcome the recommendation that appropriate housing support must be available to both parents who share care of their children. Too many children lose their relationships with their fathers completely simply because they are confined to a room in shared accommodation.
Much, much more needs to be done. The report identifies many current problems, but the authors felt unable to make other specific recommendations. The reasons for this are
there is "no clear social security strategy for separated parents so... [they are] Not able to assess whether the government's objectives for the social security system and separated parents are being achieved."
- Basically, they are saying 'how can we make recommendations when there is no overall strategy defined?' The welfare policies that are in place are piecemeal and inconsistent.
- There has been so much focus on one parent who is assumed to have main responsibility for children.
- The report emphasises the need to "encourage DWP to do more work and to consider ways of improving the CM formula to factor in the well-being and living standards of both parents and their children".
Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers says
The inconvenient truth is that most of Child Maintenance arrears are not down to ‘deadbeat dads’ but to poverty and a Child Maintenance system that is not fit for purpose. The Department of Work and Pensions’ strategy turns out to be like ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. Government apparently moved from the totally discredited Child Support Agency (CSA) to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) without actually defining what they hoped to achieve. The need for a clear strategy and wholesale reform of Child Maintenance is urgent and long overdue. We call on the Government to introduce interim measures as soon as possible before more separated parents’ and their children’s lives are damaged by ill-conceived and incoherent ‘winner takes it all’ policies that exacerbate family conflict.Current assessments by CMS often creates a hostile environment for separating parents. They set unrealistic expectations and demands on parents who are on benefits and may be struggling with their own costs of living and cannot afford the assessed payments. Such reckless demands also undermine shared parenting which has been proven to benefit children’s welfare outcomes. It is time for the Government to act!
Other Findings of the Report
- ‘even if the children stay with the paying parent for half of the nights a year, that parent will still need to pay child maintenance to the other parent’ – they are still treated as ‘a single adult’ by DWP and
- not as a single parent.
- ‘Child maintenance... can also push the paying parent into poverty’
- ‘Growing recognition of the importance of fathers for children’s socio-emotional, behavioural and cognitive outcomes’ yet only 2-3% have 50-50 shared care arrangements (in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Finland policy decisions have resulted in this being the norm).
- ‘Earnings thresholds not updated since 1998’ Yet inflation is up by 73%.
- ‘Poor links between court orders for custody and Child Maintenance Service’
- ‘Non-resident parent on benefits can be left with very weak work incentives after paying child maintenance’ with ‘marginal tax rates of between 87 and 107 per cent’ for those on Universal Credit. So it can cost some parents to work!
- ‘Travel allowances don’t reflect actual cost of travel’
- ‘The system shouldn’t disincentivise shared care as it may have a negative impact on the child(ren)’s welfare.’
- ‘Policy must also consider the impact on children living in poverty when they are with the non-resident parent’
- SSAC suggest ‘DWP to consider ways to improve the child maintenance formula to ensure they factor in the well-being and living standards of both parents and their children’
This report comes just months after the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published their report ‘The Hidden Parent Poverty Trap’ that identified that under Universal Credit, work would not pay for up to 638,000 parents - as covered in our press release in March 2019.
The FNF submission to the SSAC investigation is here:
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.
FNF receive approximately 30,000 calls a year to our Helpline, thousands more rely on our local branch network and online support through our website which has over half a million page views per year.
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.
Further information may be contacted on 0300 0300 110 or by email at email@example.com