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Home Community Single Parent Life Gingerbread news Why child maintenance is crucial for single parents
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Why child maintenance is crucial for single parents

In this guest article, Janet Allbeson, Senior Policy Adviser at Gingerbread, explains why the government shouldn't start charging for their Child Support Agency services, which help many single parents get the child maintenance arrangement they need.

The majority of the British public think the government should set - and enforce - how much in child maintenance payments single parents should receive from their child's other parent. So why isn't this message getting through to government?

Child maintenance can make a huge, practical difference for single parent families. It can help pay fuel bills, buy clothes for children or fund school trips that are otherwise a real stretch. For particularly financially vulnerable families, including single parent families on benefits, it can also be the difference between children growing up in poverty and not.

When it's paid, child maintenance pulls one in five single parent families on benefit out of poverty - but almost two thirds of these families aren't receiving it.

At a time when benefits are falling and prices rising, a report released earlier this month from Gingerbread, Kids Aren't Free, shows just how important child maintenance is for struggling parents on benefit raising their children alone.

A vital resource for single parent families

Since 2010, single parents receiving out-of-work benefits have been able to keep the full value of any child maintenance they receive, in addition to their benefit payments.  This money is crucial: for some households, the money received in child maintenance can make up 12 per cent of their total household income. As one single mother explains:

"It would take me from the breadline to just, sort of, comfortable. It would just mean I could take her out on a whim without thinking 'can I afford it?'"

Even though all parents have a responsibility to provide financially for their child, unfortunately paying child maintenance is far too often the exception, rather than the norm. Our research - based on a study of 760 single parents on benefit- showed that only around a third (36 per cent) of single parents on benefit are actually receiving any child maintenance.

"It's ok when I'm getting paid [for work]," says one single parent we spoke to. "But then it's irritating when I don't get paid. He should be the one paying it, ensuring his daughter has got enough food and stuff," she explains.

Private arrangements don't always work

For single parents on benefit almost twice as many (37 per cent) rely on the Child Support Agency (CSA) for their child maintenance arrangements compared to those who make their own arrangements with their child's other parent (20 per cent), while 43 per cent have no arrangement at all.

Our research shows that while private arrangements do mostly work well for the one in five on benefit who have them, the economic and relationship circumstances of parents, and the length of time since separation, have a large part to play in determining the type of maintenance arrangement they can have. And sometimes single parents struggle to get an arrangement at all, so the CSA really is a crucial service.

"He took all the money out of the bank... and just upped and left," recounts one single mother. "He wasn't happy setting an agreement up. So I went to them [the CSA], as a last resort."

Nonetheless, the government is planning to levy charges for both parents to access the new statutory service that will replace the CSA in the near future, to try to get more parents to make their own arrangements. However, we remain to be convinced that this new system of charging, combined with a number of newly funded 'relationship support' services for separated parents, will lead to more parents collaborating and more poor children getting child maintenance. Instead, we're concerned that parents who are unable to make their own arrangements may be discouraged by the charges from using the statutory service at all.

The impact on child poverty

With 67 per cent of single parents on benefits in the study saying that they wouldn't find it easy to scrape together the £20 upfront fee to use the new statutory service, the risk is that a greater number of poor parents - who would otherwise have turned to the state for necessary help in getting the other parent to pay - will give up altogether on child maintenance.

While child poverty is predicted to rise steeply over the next decade, we know that child maintenance could play a huge role in mitigating that rise. But our research also raises serious questions about the government's planned approach in helping to achieve this. We hope that our research, as well as the new findings highlighting strong public support for the government to play a role in setting and enforcing child maintenance payments, give the government pause for thought as they finalise their plans for the new statutory service. Ultimately, it must do whatever will result in more children getting child maintenance and being lifted out of poverty as a result.

The research for "Kids Aren't Free" was carried out in partnership by Gingerbread, NatCen and Bryson Purdon Social Research, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Find out more about the research


GingerbreadGroups avatar
06 June 2016 12:03

Iv recently had issues with my ex has he is self employed.... the child Maint laws state that a childs father/mother does not have a legal obligation to tell child main there earning until the renewal date. But the law also states that the secretary of state can over rule this ... i wrote to my local mp, secretary of DWP and 10 dawning street... all of which contacted child maint and told them to look into my payments.... i am now getting 3 more times the amount of money from my kids dad. .... thanks to advice from the gingerbread page. N ow i full understand child maint law i am able to help members of my local group.

lillym avatar
24 November 2013 02:38

Whats the world coming to? Its evil

cathc avatar
19 October 2013 05:56

my ex pays me 130 per month for two daughters pathetic, and we are loosing our home as he wont pay towards the mortgage after 18 years of domestic violence, but at least he is away, money is not everything, nd he is in brilliant job but he will get no joy in his life, karma

SharronP avatar
19 September 2013 10:20

After years of nothing or £5 per week for my two children, my daughter (17) is living with her dad now and in college so I am going to have to pay him £140 a month while he still gives me £5 per week as he is working cash in hand to avoid paying me anymore. The only thing that keeps me going is that I have a good job I have stuck at and worked hard to progress in and keep the job. Whilst he can have no self respect especially as he seems to think he is being extremely clever :) We do suffer because of it but hopefully things will get much better one day and at least my children all work as they follow my example not their dads.

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