I've written posts about Gingerbread before. They are an organisation that provides advice and support for single parents. I think they're great, and do a lot to help fight the stigma often thrust upon us.
They are currently campaigning against the government's plans to charge people to use the Child Support Agency.
For those lucky enough to have never had dealings with the CSA, this is what happens: you fill in a form and send it to them. They contact the other parent and ask how much they earn. Then they decide how much of those earnings you should get. The absent parent either agrees to send them the money directly, or it can be done through the person's work as an attachment of earnings - meaning the payroll department just take that money out before it's paid, and sends it to the CSA.
The absent parent has until the 21st of the month to get the money to the CSA. They then wait for the money to clear before sending it back out. I think they quote a turnaround of "up to 5 working days" for this. So basically, the absent parent gets paid on the 1st of the month, and you might not see your child's share of that until the end of the month. If the absent parent or their employer doesn't send the money to the CSA, from my experience the CSA doesn't do much about it. They have the power to take people and their employers to court, but they rarely seem to get around to it.
They want to charge for this service.
The proposal is to charge a one-off £20 fee for setting everything up, and then an ongoing 4% of everything going through them.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds an awful lot like penalising a parent who has already been very much left holding the baby?
You may notice that I titled this post "Gingerbread and Absent Fathers." This is not because I am stupid enough to think it's only the fathers who are absent, but because of a study that was reported yesterday regarding absent fathers.
Apparently there is an issue with fathers losing contact with their children once they have entered a new relationship and had more children. I think the figure was 21% of fathers with children in a subsequent relationship never see the children from their previous relationship.
The Mail (God love 'em) referred to these men as "serial fathers."
So here we have two related stories; one of them is being reported, the other not.
To me, they seem interlinked. On the one hand, you have these men going around fathering children, then running off and setting up another family and forgetting about the first. They lose contact with their first family. And now the government is effectively saying to the mothers of those children, "yes, that's a perfectly acceptable thing for him to do. And if you want us to help you get any maintenance out of him, you can pay us for it."
Nobody chooses to use the CSA; they are pretty rubbish at what they do. You use the CSA when you have no other way of getting money out of an absent parent - mother or father, it makes no difference. I went to the CSA when I realised that monthly payments from S's father would be used as another way of controlling me - you can only have this much money this month because I only saw her this many times. My health visitor practically ordered me to use them rather than have monthly contact with someone who had already done so much damage to both of our lives.
So where does the government's new proposal put me? Over the Summer I was receiving £2 every two weeks from the CSA. Taking 4% of that probably costs more in administration than they would be making out of it.
And what will we get for our 4%? Will they suddenly begin chasing late payments? Making thorough checks of absent parents' income figures to ensure they are telling the truth? Will they investigate whether the absent parent is perhaps doing a bit of work "off the books" so as to avoid paying maintenance?
I don't claim maintenance through the CSA because it is of any use to me. In all honesty, I would rather not be taking anything from that man. My health visitor tells me we should take the money, because when you father a child you are responsible for that life forever. That is what being a parent means.
What the government are planning to do seems to me to be removing that responsibility. They are saying to people: go out, get pregnant/get someone pregnant. Run off and leave the child. It's fine. You won't be held responsible.