Child Maintenance Reforms

Today the lords vote on the welfare reform bills changes to child maintenance.

Starting from 2013, the government proposes charging:

  • £100 as an upfront fee (or £50 for parents on benefit) for those who want to use the future CSA. Only “Victims of domestic violence” will be exempt (although there is no detail on how this will be proved or checked).
  • An on-going charge of between 7% and 12% on any maintenance paid to parents who rely on the future CSA to collect their child maintenance, as well as an extra 15-20% charge added to the non-resident parent’s payment. 

Ian Duncan Smith says the bill will incentivise parents to make private arrangements with regards to welfare. He also believes it will make parents seriously consider whether separation is necessary.

This is really unfair for many reasons:

  • It punishes single parents who have partners that refuse to engage with the CSA by charging them.
  • It’s sexist; 97% of those that will be affected by the changes will be female. Putting the apparent emphasis back on the Tories old favourite. Punishing single mothers.
  • Over half of the people in receipt of child support get less than £20 per week. By adding these charges it makes going through the task of claiming pretty pointless. Go through all that trouble for less than £10 extra support? You’d probably be better off buying lottery tickets.
  • It puts people who are financially dependant and wishing to leave a relationship in a even greater position of vulnerability. Stay in a unhappy relationship and risk the potential damage that can cause? Try and negotiate a separation and hope that you partner plays fair? Because once you express a wish for separation you can’t really take it back. Try to keep your children with the knowledge it might mean living in poverty? If we look at the kinds of people most likely to financially dependant we see women, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems and people in abusive relationships*. That list is by no means exhaustive.

In a happy turn of events a Conservative Lord who helped set up the CSA, Lord MacKay, is pushing for an amendment this afternoon which parents with main care of children who have no alternative but to use the CSA to get maintenance for their children would be exempted from government charges. He says;

“Of course we all agree that it is better for voluntary arrangements. But that is not the world we live in, unfortunately. You require the co-operation of another party and you cannot force them to give it.

“When a woman – as a typical example – has taken all reasonable steps and done all she can to reach an agreement but cannot manage it, I do not agree that she should be charged by the CSA for her application … That is utterly unfair. If anyone is to pay for that, surely it should be the person who has caused the difficulty by trying to escape from his moral obligations.”

I, like many others are hoping to see a Conservative and Lib Dem rebellion allowing this very sensible amendment to pass. Of course it won’t mean the end of the issue if it does. When the bill is returned to the House of Commons the Conservatives have vowed to overturn the amendments. This is why we need to keep up the pressure.

This issue isn’t just a feminist issue, it’s also a disability and mental health rights issue and deserves support from across the board. We should all help spread the word.

If you want to get involved have a look at Gingerbread‘s website and campaigning page.

* even though the legislation says that those people will be exempt we know that proving domestic abuse can be extremely hard if not impossible in many incidences of psychological abuse. Especially if it doesn’t go to court or get reported to the police.

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