Friday, 11 January 2013

Driving Non-Resident Parents into Poverty

Yesterday we wrote concerning the introduction of the bedroom tax, by which non-resident parents and those who share residence (but are not entitled to child benefits) will see their housing benefit substantially cut this year.

Coalition to tax children out of fathers' lives

The Government is introducing new measures which (from a benefits standpoint) do not treat your children as having a home with you, even if, legally, they do. These changes will affect anyone on housing benefit who shares residence but is not the main carer, those who have their children for 50% of the time (but are not in receipt of child benefits which go to the holder of the child benefit book), and non-resident parents who have overnight staying contact.

The Government on the one hand accepts the argument that father involvement secures child welfare (and the reverse of the argument that a lack of involvement causes harm), but via the benefits system, are to make fatherlessness significantly more likely.

Consider that this setback comes on top of a system which is already manifestly biased:
  • Only one separated parent can claim child benefit... the main carer;
  • Only one separated parent can claim family tax credits... the main carer;
  • Changes introduced in 2012 made it so a non-resident parent would only receive benefits to cover multiple occupancy (e.g. a single bedroom in a shared house).
We have a manifestly unequal benefits system. For the unemployed or disabled parent, these inequalities are devastating. Overnight staying contact becomes problematic, if not impossible where the main carer argues that the other parent lacks suitable accommodation.

The non-resident parent and child must often spend their time in a cramped bedroom. Going to a park is an option, but not on days when it rains... and the British weather is not an ally. Routinely, the parent lacks the funds to take their children to 'paying' venues. Such problems may lead the child to be more reluctant to stay with the non-resident parent, and encourages a hostile main carer to interfere with contact. Inevitably, this is resulting in more returns to court for enforcement and incidences of a child being alienated from a parent. From April 2013, a parent on benefits faces a double hit of additionally losing legal aid.

The following attempts to cope are already commonplace:
  • Only heating your home when your child is with you;
  • Not eating when your child is not with you.
Teachers report that half of children come to school hungry, and a third of children don't have breakfast... and this coming from homes which are in receipt of full housing benefit, child benefit, and family tax credits.

MPs are calling for a 32% pay rise. Andrew Bridge MP, speaking of his salary, recently said on Radio 4 that a lot of people wouldn't think £66,000 a year is a lot of money, and such a sum meant children going without at Christmas.

The sad result is that this Government, through tax cuts, has perhaps contributed more to the fatherless society than any other. This, despite being aware of the harm caused to children and society as a whole. We would urge them to reconsider their policy.