David Cameron has staked a lot of his moral character as Prime Minister upon “family values”. He has also attempted to divorce himself from perceptions that the Conservative Party is condemnatory of single mothers by declaring that what they do is a “heroic job against all the odds” and that men who desert their children, either financially or emotionally, are “beyond the pale”. However, actions speak louder than words and recent policy proposals show just how hollow this rhetoric is.
Despite arguing that men should be forced by society to support their children, the Tories are now planning to charge single parents (overwhelmingly mothers) £100 upfront (or £50 if they are on benefit) to access the Child Support Agency and pursue unpaid maintenance. On top of this the CSA will now charge a 7-12% commission on all money recovered from the absent party. This appalling policy was justified on the grounds that Cameron wants to encourage parents to “sort out their own affairs”….as if single parents who use the CSA are doing so by choice!
This policy once again shows how utterly divorced Cameron is from any understanding of how normal people, especially women, live their lives. As ANY single parent in need of the agency would know, in between the tasks of having/finding a job, looking after children on your own, maintaining a household and making ends meet, what you really don’t need is the hassle of attempting to pursue a long, complicated and possibly fruitless claim with the CSA – with all of the intrusion and humiliation that entails. We must also remember that less than half of single parents receive any maintenance at all and it is far too easy for absent fathers to disguise their income in CSA assessments. The CSA was born out of necessity, as a means of last resort. It is by no means an “easy option” for any single parent.
The Tories moreover obviously have no idea of the value of money for those their policies affect. If a single mother (or father) is in need of money as a result of the absent parent failing to contribute it is deeply unlikely, to say the least, that they simply have £100 lying around unaccounted for which they can use to attempt to pursue a possibly unsuccessful claim. Half of all single parent households live below the poverty line but still Cameron seems to have no conception of how much £100 is to the average single parent or how much impact the loss of it would have on their families. Given that this money is also something that every single parent is entitled to, charging them for access to it is morally abhorrent. It is like charging benefit claimants to access income support and in just the same way those most in need of it would be those to whom such barriers would be impossible to overcome.
There is no way that such a policy could be viewed as a means of “encouragement” into alternative arrangements. This is a pure and simple attempt to block access to the CSA and thereby reduce the cost to the state of supporting single mothers. As usual, it is a Tory policy that will hurt the most vulnerable hardest. Its certain detrimental impact upon the welfare of children living in these households also unveils the total hypocrisy of Cameron’s claims to support a society that prioritises children and families. If he does prioritise families, it is very clear exactly what kind of families that includes and which it does not. Heaven help those families who truly lie beyond Cameron’s pale.