Background – What is happening?Gingerbread ExplainsThe government wants more parents to ‘take responsibility’ for negotiating their own child maintenance arrangements.  From 2012 they are proposing to phase out the CSA, and create a new system run by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC).  Whilst some of the proposed changes may improve things, there are certain key proposals that we think will be deeply harmful to single parent families. The key proposals are:

Single Parents will be charged an upfront fee of £100 to use the CMEC service, as well as an ongoing ‘collection charge’ of between 7% and 12% of their maintenance if they want their maintenance collected by the Commission.  For those on benefits the upfront fee will be £50, with £20 upfront and the rest in installments.

Non-resident parents using the system will be charged between 15% and 20% on the maintenance they pay, unless they choose to make their CMEC payments directly to the parent with care (called ‘maintenance direct’) .  They will be able to do this even if the parent with care does not want them to.

My Response to the Green Paper – Strengthening Families, Promoting Parental Responsibility: The Future Of Child Maintenance “The Coalition Government believes that the strategic vision for the child maintenance system should be one that places positive outcomes for families and children at its heart. We want it to promote outcomes that are best for families and children, to deliver a more efficient administrative maintenance service for those who need it, and provide value for money for the taxpayer.” Quote from the Green paper An outcome that is best for the child is to have all the money that is owing to them, not part of it as the government is taking a % of it.“Our Programme for Government made clear our commitment to supporting and strengthening families. It is within the family that children develop – psychologically, physically, emotionally and socially – and this is the foundation for children reaching their potential. Children who grow up in stable families have a better start in life – from educational attainment to mental health to future employment prospects – than their peers who experience fractured, chaotic, or dysfunctional home environments. And it is not only individuals who benefit; there are economic and societal benefits when a supportive family environment in childhood is reflected in adulthood.” Quote from the Green paper How exactly do you think that reading  the section in bold make single parents feel? How do you think that single parents can make this right for their children? Should they either stay with a partner that is not suitable for a family environment (domestic violence, unfaithful, gambler, etc) or if single for reasons of death they should go out and find a new partner as quickly as they can so that they will make sure that their children have a better start in life.

NOT ALL CHILDREN FROM SINGLE PARENT FAMILIES

WILL HAVE A POOR START IN LIFE.

Many will have a better, more stable, and happier life that if they had remained in what the government deems is a stable family.  Further on in the document it is stated that a stable family could be one where parents do not live together but both frequently see their children.  But again, what if this isn’t the scenario? Is a child doomed to a life of crime, bad health and unhappiness?“For families, dealing with separation typically involves not just the practical issues of arranging assets, but the emotional and related issues that arise from dealing with such a significant life event. As such, families need support that meets their individual needs around separation, to enable them to adjust to new circumstances.” Quote from the Green paper In my experience trying to deal with the emotional issues and the financial issues together causes more problems.  It is very easy for the financial issues to be about control of the ex-partner – on both sides.  That is why for so many having an independent 3rd party able to deal with the financial side means that they can in fact deal with the emotional side and arrangements of access etc.  If the independent 3rd party is able to deem what is ‘fair’ this means that it is not either party demanding.“We believe that families themselves are best placed to determine what arrangements will work best for them. Underlying our approach is the assumption that government should use mechanisms to encourage and support parents to:

  • fulfil their responsibilities as parents in terms of continuing involvement in their children’s lives and through the payment of child maintenance; and
  • make family-based arrangements concerning these issues wherever possible, which is better for children, rather than relying on government services to step in and administer these arrangements on parents’ behalf.” Quote from the Green paper

At a time of family breakdown it is generally an extremely difficult and raw time to be able to deal with things. Is this saying that if families use the CSA they are not fulfilling their responsibilities as parents? I would argue that when all other avenues have been tried that using a government body in order to get your child the money they are owed is fulfilling your parental responsibility.“We want to encourage collaboration wherever possible, while recognising this will not always be possible and that statutory services will be there for the most vulnerable people in society. We consider in this chapter not only the specific reforms to the child maintenance system, but also invite comment about how these proposals could be modified to best align with the wider support available.” Quote from the Green paper This paragraph acknowledges that not everyone will be able to come to their own agreements, it agrees that there will be a statutory service for the most vulnerable people in society. I feel it is very important to emphasis here that they are willing to intervene for the most vulnerable people, for a charge. So if you are vulnerable you will be able to get assistance, but it will cost your child a % of the maintenance that is paid to them.  The Government will charge the most vulnerable in society. Are the people who don’t fit into the ideal of what a family is being punished?

Is this fair? Or Right?

“By encouraging parents to make better choices and take responsibility through increasing consideration of family-based arrangements we will not only deliver better outcomes for families, but also, in addition to efficiency savings in the statutory service, significantly reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer.” Quote from the Green paper Again the use of the word responsibility, so those who have to use the service are not taking responsibility and making a bad choice?

If the alternative is to get no money for their child, which is more responsible?

“Those who are leaving relationships where there has been violence or a risk to the child are also a group for whom we wish to tailor our proposals appropriately. As well as working directly with stakeholders, the Department will be working across government to ensure its approach in this area is fully consistent and builds on the Government’s strategic vision set out in ‘Call to End Violence against Women and Girls’ (25th November 2010). As part of this approach victims of domestic violence will be exempt from the application charge.”  Quote from the Green paper But their child will still lose a % of every payment to them So victims of domestic violence will be exempt from the initial £100 charge but not from the on going charge of using the service.  How will the government decide who is a victim of domestic violence?From Womens Aid “Only a minority of incidents of domestic violence are reported to the police, varying between 23% (Walby and Allen, 2004) and 35% (Home Office, 2002; see also British Crime Survey, 1998; Dodd, et al., 2004).”This shows that for the majority of people who have suffered any form of domestic violence will not have a police report.  And for many women one of the ‘easiest’ forms of domestic violence to be a victim of is the hardest to prove, is bullying and control.  And this is where the perpetrator will use their control, over maintenance and if and when they choose to pay.  Leaving a victim no choice but to use the service on behalf of their children.  But it is likely unless they can prove they were a victim they will be charged both the £100 and on going % charge.Conclusions

  • For the majority, if they could make their own arrangement away from statutory help, they would.  It would be a lot quicker and easier.
  • No one goes into a relationship expecting it to end in a mess.
  • If you want to support single parent families do not make more of them go into or deeper into poverty by taking even more money from them.
  • The paper has been written about parents taking responsibility for their children by working without support from statutory agencies for the financial part of separation, but it talks extensively about how it will offer a whole range of support for the other areas.  But for many families sorting out the financial part is the most difficult and stressful and in fact the part they need assistance with the most.
  • For many single parents not on benefit they are still on very low incomes, they are not on benefit as they are working hard for their child, but they will now have to find £100 to start the process.  Many will not be able to afford this as they have no savings, they live week to week and it will not be a luxury they can afford.
  • There is an assumption the whole way through the Green paper that if you cannot sort out maintenance payments without statutory help, then you are not taking responsibility for your child.

What next?I emailed my MP James Duddridge using the template on Gingerbread, I also asked about the domestic violence issue, his response is belowWhen I read that reply I felt many things, mainly anger though.  I contacted Gingerbread to know that I got a reply and they advised me to keep going.So my next steps are to send the above responses to the green paper consultation team and email the Minister Maria Miller who is the Minister suggesting all of these changes. I am also hoping to meet with my MP to ask him not only about these proposed changes but what the Government feels they are doing to all the single parents out there and societies opinion of them.  I have a feeling he needs to be reminded of Gingerbreads other recent campaign Lose the Labels and You’re Brilliant.Having what feels like a whole government against single parents, or parents that don;t fit into their ideal is in my opinion far from healthy.  How will it make all these children growing up in single parent families feel?  Like they are doomed?  It seems to be ignored that for many of us, we work hard to make sure that our children get a fantastic start in life, and as it is constantly in our faces about our children will be thugs/criminals/failures/unhappy/unhealthy we do everything in our power to make sure this doesn’t happen, to the point we are losing ourselves as people.  Or maybe this is just me.If this makes any sense to you and you have even a few moment please see here how you can very simply email your MP

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