The “bad payers” (fathers) v “distraught receivers” (mothers) narrative distracts from the reality that both separated parents are often struggling and that both parents are (or should be) involved in the responsibilities of bringing up their children.
The terms of the consultation based around draconian measures designed to punish non-resident parents wilfully fails to address a primitive and unworkable assessment formula. In many cases parents feel bullied and are driven out of work and into despair.
The CMS has proved to be only a minimal improvement on the CSA. Both are monsters created by short-sighted governments with scant regard for even-handedness in general and especially the consequences for the children of poorer families.
Above all the narrative fails the children of separated parents by facilitating and perpetuating tension and animosity between their parents instead of collaboration.
The DWP’s proposed consultation to write off much of the £4bn of Child Maintenance arrears is right and pragmatic. The vast majority of such arrears were accumulated over a quarter of a century and are for relatively tiny amounts. Many of those assessed simply did not have the money to pay it at the time. Most cases of arrears have arisen largely because of:
- Incorrect calculations by the discredited scrapped Child Support Agency (CSA)
- Fundamental flaws in the calculation making payments unaffordable and discouraging work
- A failure to address issues around shared parenting arrangements
It is helpful that DWP now encourage separated couples to come to private arrangements on child support. Most importantly, however, today’s announcement does not include consultation on the vital underlying problems of Child Maintenance. These include:
- Affordability e.g. Universal Credit fails to take into account statutory Child Maintenance payments.
- The 20% surcharge for use of the service, that most affects those least able to pay.
- Failure to address shared care arrangements with an ongoing ‘winner takes it all’ approach.
- The unrealistic 25% threshold for variation of payment requirement when paying parents’ income drops.
The proposals to toughen up on non-payment are a distraction and will fail unless they address these points – all notable for not being a part of the consultation. The Government and DWP are well aware of these issues. It is deeply disappointing that this consultation misses the opportunity to address these problems. They will not go away but will instead add hardship, stress and misery to tens of thousands of parents and children alike.
It is worth noting that whilst Child Maintenance and child contact are often viewed as separate issues, the failure of courts to enforce Child Arrangement Orders is divisive and marginalises non-resident parents. It encourages them to spend money on family law proceedings rather than on their children. Hundreds of thousands of ‘non-resident parents’, mostly dads, feel disenfranchised and excluded from their children’s lives and are blithely being asked to pay for the privilege. Involved parents are far more likely to be supportive in both the care and financial wellbeing of their children. The Government claims to support shared parenting ring very hollow when we consider their actions on the key area that is Child Maintenance.
In October an OECD report was published showing that Finland had become the first country to report that dads spend longer caring for their children than mums. In Finland, unlike in the UK, there is a recognition, based on research, that fathers play a crucial role in child development. “This is not about the mother’s right or the father’s right – but the child’s right to spend time with both parents.” said Finland’s Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services.” Here in the UK, child maintenance needs to be considered holistically, taking account of both parents’ income and responsibilities and integrated into the Universal Benefit system.
What is plain is that the more progress there is towards equality on both sides, the narrower will be the gap that child maintenance has to fill i.e. preventing the problem that Child Maintenance tries to ‘solve’.
Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers says “Our government’s approach is risible compared to modern countries such as Finland and Sweden. Our Child Maintenance and welfare systems actually undermine shared parenting rather than support it. In doing so the welfare of millions of children takes second place to ideological posturing and piecemeal policies.”
Mr Karlin adds “Of course individuals who evade tax and/or paying maintenance through under-reporting income are stealing from society as a whole, but HMRC already has the powers to deal with such situations. However, this is not the main problem and the Government need to focus on responsible working and shared parenting policies and ensuring that Child Maintenance is affordable. Bigger sticks to beat non-resident parents will not address these issues, but will cause further resentment and hardship. We will, of course, provide further evidence to the DWP in this consultation, but it is unhelpful that the wrong questions continue to be asked. The fact of the matter is that even the current Child Maintenance Service is also broken and the government’s talk of simply giving its custodians more power to implement their outdated and divisive policies is absurd and profoundly irresponsible.”
FNF will be meeting with the minister, Caroline Dinenage MP next week and putting forward these points.
Background for Editors
FNF carried out a survey of over 800 service users in response to the Select Committee Inquiry into Child Maintenance last year 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 new 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.
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 this year – see here.
On 18th July 2017 Families Need Fathers attended a meeting with Caroline Dinenage MP, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance. On 31st August 2017 Ms Dinenage provided FNF with assurances that that the issues of unaffordable Child Maintenance calculations would be investigated by her department. We have not yet received a response.
Key references are included within our most recent press releases and other links below.
Heidi Allen MP proposed a bill on 28th November 2017 to addressing the issue of wealthy non-resident parents avoiding Child Maintenance. See FNF response here: https://fnf.org.uk/news-events-2/press-releases/150-press-releases-2017-archive/439-press-release-heidi-allen-risks-pushing-nrps-into-poverty
Submissions to the Select Committee by Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at Royal Holloway University of London to demonstrate the problem may be found below along with our previous press release on this issue.
Most recent submissions to the Work and Pensions Select Committee by FNF and Dr Davies:
For comment, further quotations or information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 0300 0300 110.