The Independent View: Lib Dems crucial in preventing further welfare reform injustice

Child maintenance is a life-line for many single parent families, whose children are twice as likely to live in poverty as those of couple families. The Government’s proposals to attach charges to access the Child Support Agency will see vulnerable families with no option but to seek state help to gain maintenance pushed further into financial distress – with their children ultimately footing the bill.

After a week of turmoil in the House of Lords where crossbench alliances have proven crucial, this evening attention will turn to the Government’s child maintenance proposals – and the possibility of another government defeat of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Under an amendment tabled by the widely respected Conservative Peer, Lord Mackay of Clashfern – former Lord Chancellor under Mrs Thatcher – and co-signed by Lord Kirkwood, parents with main care of children who have no alternative but to use the statutory maintenance service (currently the Child Support Agency) in order to get maintenance for their children would be exempted from government charges.

The proposed charges are:

• An upfront charge levied on the applicant (usually the parent with care) in order to use the future new Agency. The Government is currently proposing an upfront charge of £100 or £50 for an applicant on out-of-work benefits;

• An ongoing ‘collection charge’ taken by the new Agency from every maintenance payment it collects, in the range of 7-12% of the payment, before the money is passed on to the children;

• A further ‘collection surcharge’ which the Government proposes to charge those ‘non-resident parent’, likely to be in the range of an extra 15-20% of the maintenance liability.

Lord Mackay, who has received significant support from Peers across all parties, said: “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.”

Ministers say the main purpose of charging is to drive behavioural change and make former couples choose to collaborate rather than use the state maintenance system. Yet, as a DWP briefing for Peers has acknowledged, a “significant proportion” of parents will not be in a position to agree private maintenance in this way.

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread said:

“There appears to be a groundswell of support from Peers across the House for Lord Mackay’s principled stand.  They can see the injustice of making children pay the price. Most people agree that parents remain responsible for their children after they separate. Where that responsibility is not met the state must step in for the sake of the children.”

Hopefully Lib Dem peers will see how unfair these proposals are and vote in favour of Lord MacKay’s amendments.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.
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4 Comments

  • James Sandbach 25th Jan '12 - 4:15pm

    What’s Gingerbread’s view about mediation generally – re Goverment view that it should be the preferred method of agreeing child support rather than statutory enforcement?

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jan '12 - 7:11pm

    “Ministers say the main purpose of charging is to drive behavioural change and make former couples choose to collaborate rather than use the state maintenance system. ”

    This is a bit like trying to change a car’s speed by jamming the speedometer.

    Until child maintenance is properly-absorbed into a unified tax-benefit system, we shall continue to have a total mess with associated misery and inefficiency. Parliament’s meddling with the CSA has forever been atrociously inept and this latest attempt seems to be as bad as any under labour and the previous Tories.

  • mark dewison 26th Jan '12 - 4:14pm

    I have read the article by Gingerbread posted on Liberal Democrat Voice today, concerning Lord Mackay’s proposed amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, to the effect that charges for those using the Statutary Maintenance Scheme should be dropped.

    For me, the article raised more questions than answers, because the argument it advances seems to rest on some unchallanged assumptions.

    It assumes that every party which seeks statutary maintenance is a single parent. What is the evidence for this?

    It assumes that every party which seeks statutary maintenance does so because they have exhusted every avenue of negotiation. What is the evidence for this?

    It assumes that every resident parent seeks statutary maintenance because the non-resident parent is trying to evade their responsibilities. What is the evidence for this?

    It assumes every resident parent is experiencing financial distress. What is the evidence for this?

    It mentions, but fails to highlight, the very considerable extra burdon of a 15-20% surcharge on the non-resident’s maintenance liability. I find this omission extraordinary, assuming that the article is based on a commitment to fairness to all.

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