Can you help shape Gingerbread’s emotional and mental health support?
28th Nov 2023
Posted 27 April 2023
Gingerbread welcomes today’s Work and Pensions Committee report – Children in Poverty: Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The report recognizes what we have been saying for a long time: that a well-enforced, effective CMS would alleviate financial hardship and reduce poverty for a significant number of single parents.
There are approximately 1.87 million single-parent households with dependent children, and these families are more likely to experience poverty; in 2021–22, 44% of children in single-parent households were in poverty, compared to 25% of children in couple-parent families. Research shows that effective pursuit of CMS payments would lift 60% of children of single parents currently not benefiting from maintenance out of poverty (Hakovirta et al, 2019).
This research is echoed in today’s report. Written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) estimated that:
“receiving parents in separated families received £2.4 billion annually in child maintenance payments in each of the three financial years ending 2019 to 2021. As a result we estimate that 100,000 children lived in households which were moved out of absolute low-income each year (on average) from 2018/19 to 2020/21.”
This shows the way in which child maintenance can improve people’s lives – yet it is currently not doing this for enough resident parents and their children.
Ahead of the report, our CEO Victoria Benson presented to the Work and Pensions committee, sharing with them the issues that many single parents face with the CMS. There are particular concerns regarding how the CMS still operates in a way that often punishes survivors of a domestic abuse and can even be utilised as a mechanism for perpetrating economic abuse, despite the findings of the Samantha Callan review. Victoria told the Committee:
“I think there are huge improvements that can be made. Domestic abuse is much more prevalent than …[The CMS] thinks… Of course, domestic abuse is a wide definition and post-separation abuse is common….[including] threats around withholding maintenance, contact, and seeking residence of the children.
Often that means that the resident parent is very reluctant to go the CMS…We have real concerns that the CMS does not fully understand the environment of domestic abuse… In fact, it often makes the situation worse… That is one of the reasons why people do not use the CMS because they think it is going to perpetuate the abuse.
Reflecting our calls for better management of non-paying parents, the Committee recommends that DWP should move cases to Collect and Pay faster where there is little prospect of a Direct Pay arrangement being successful, and that the DWP should consider triggering a move to Collect and Pay when child maintenance arrears reach half of the current average arrears. Their report also echoes our calls for the 4% Collect and Pay fee to be waived for survivors of domestic abuse, as well as calling for this fee to be means tested, so as to not punish lower income families for moving onto the often necessary Collect and Pay service.
Concerningly, there was £20 million unpaid Child Maintenance in the last quarter of 2022, and in 35% of Collect and Pay arrangements no child maintenance was paid. This shows that moving non-compliant non-resident parents over to Collect and Pay is not a silver bullet and will only work if enforced properly.
The recommendations in the report, as well as the two CMS Private Members’ Bills currently moving through the House of Lords, are starting to bring a very important conversation to the fore, but the DWP must now prioritise tackling a broken CMS system to ensure that resident parents are given the money they are owed.
The report also highlights the woeful lack of data surrounding Direct Payments, and also situations where informal arrangements are made between separated parents. Resident parents should not be dissuaded from utilising the Child Maintenance Service, and we hope to support Government in better understanding whether or not informal arrangements are actually ensuring that child maintenance needs are met.
An effective CMS is more important than ever with 44% of children of single parents in poverty and single parents telling us that the cost of living crisis has left them feeling “stuck living in a world [I] can’t afford to be in.” Please join us in our calls to #FixTheCMS by emailing your local MP & asking them to raise this in Parliament – https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
For more information on our campaign to Fix the CMS, please contact Campaigns@gingerbread.org.uk