Thursday, 10 January 2013

Coalition to tax children out of fathers' lives

While the Government's proposals to introduce a presumption of shared parenting and tackle fatherlessness in Britain are laudable, changes to the housing benefit system are to make the situation far, far worse for non-resident parents (and those who share residence, but are not the majority carer). 

Overnight staying contact will become an unattainable dream for those in social housing. Some mothers will be affected too, but it's mainly non-resident fathers and those who share care who will be affected.

The change impacts on any separated parent in social housing who isn't the 'main carer' (by which we assume doesn't hold the child benefit book). Come April 2013, and upon the introduction of the The Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012, there will be a:
  • 14% cut in housing benefits for a second bedroom;
  • 25% cut in housing benefits for a third bedroom.
Welcome to the bedroom tax.

The central idea for children subject to shared residence arrangements, that they have a home with each parent, is somewhat defeated when Dad or Mum has to sleep on the sofa for the children to have a bedroom door to close. If you have several children, perhaps you can cram them all into one bed... regardless of their gender or age. How will this impact on a child's enjoyment at seeing and staying with their non-resident parent?

If you are a non-resident parent on low pay, unable to work, or unable to find work, a foster parent, and in social housing, heaven help you.

The DWP guidance for councils is as follows:

45. Where parents who don’t live together have shared care of their children the children are only treated as living with the parent that is treated as responsible for them and provides their main home. For a person to be treated as responsible for a child or young person, the child or young person must normally be living with that person. If a child or young person spends equal amounts of time in different households, or there is a question as to whom they normally live with, they will be treated as living with the person who is receiving child benefit for them. This is consistent with those living in the private rented sector.1

Does the DWP not understand the legal concept of parental responsibility being a separate consideration to parenting time allocation? From their guidance, it would appear not.

Will you be affected if you were previously allocated an extra bedroom to reflect the fact that you share care?


If you have a pre-1989 tenancy agreement, will you be affected?


Will foster carers be affected?

Yes...  because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes.
What are the effects of fatherlessness on children and society?
  • A child is 40% more likely to suffer depression.2
  • It has a direct, adverse affect on child wellbeing.3
  • It has a direct, adverse affect on a child's mental health in later life.4
  • It has a direct, adverse affect on a child's attainment at school.5
  • There is a strong association with diminished self-concepts in children.6
  • It has a measurable and adverse affect on a child's IQ.7
  • It has a direct impact on criminal behaviour, teenage pregnancy, suicide and substance abuse in adolescents.8
Resident Parents and their children do not escape unscathed
To gain an exemption from the cuts, your children's sleeping arrangements are going to have to change...
  • Same sex children under the age of 16 are expected to share;
  • Children under the age of 10 are expected to share regardless of their gender
Should the DWP not be subject to the principles of the Children Act 1989... that child welfare is the paramount consideration?

Apparently not. The DWP cuts will damage society and cause harm to children. We believe they represent a false economy.

In 2007, the United Nations reported that Britain had the unhappiest children in the developed world.9 It seems that Government policy will ensure that Britain will continue to be a world leader in this area. Not though, a matter for pride.

Little Johnny will have to move in with his sister, and will lose his bedroom at Dad's house. So much for maintaining the status quo (another welfare principle of the Children Act). One wonders if that cut in tax for the wealthiest in society might have been better spent... or the £12billion spent on the Olympics. It seems the poorest in society and their children are to bear the cost now, and society will bear the cost later.

End notes
1.  Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Circular - HB/CTB A4/2012
2. ‘A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age’. Richard Layard and Judy Dunn. The Children’s Society (2009)
3. ‘The Role of Father Involvement and Mother Involvement in Adolescents' Psychological Wellbeing’ Dr Eirini Flouri and Prof Ann Buchanan. British Journal of Social Work 2003; 33: 399-406
4. ‘The role of father involvement in children's later mental health’. Dr Eirini Flouri and Prof Ann Buchanan. Journal of Adolescents 2003; 26; 63-78
5. ‘The Impact of Parental Involvement on Children’s Education’. The Department for Education and Skills 2003, and ‘Early father's and mother's involvement and child's later educational outcomes’. British Journal of Educational Psychology 2004; 74: 141-53.
6. Parish (1987)
8. ‘Father's Day: The Importance of Dads’. Dr Daniel Nettle of Newcastle University and the Institute of Neuroscience in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour. 
8. Child Custody, Access and Parental Responsibility: The Search for a Just and Equitable Standard. Erik Kruk M.S.W. Ph.D. The University of British Columbia. December 2008.
9. An Overview of Child Well Being in the Richest Countries. UNICEF 2008.