POVERTY: CSA `forcing cuts in benefit' for poorest single parents

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The Child Support Agency is hurting the poorest children by using punitive measures against parents, reducing their income support by up to 25 per cent, according to the Child Poverty Action Group.

Three in four parents left to care on their own for children are on income support. In many cases such parents are unwilling to pursue the absent parent, as the CSA demands, because to do so would "risk harm or undue distress" to them or their child. If they are unable to convince a child- support officer that they are at risk in this way, they face a financial penalty which lasts for at least three years and which means a pounds 20 reduction in income support per week. For a lone parent over 25 with a child under 11 this means a reduction in support from pounds 81.80 to pounds 62.14 at 1997/98 rates.

But some parents suffer this cut rather than risk the violence or break- up of an amicable arrangement that may result from pursuing the absent parent.

Sally Witcher, director of CPAG, said parents left to care for children on benefits should not be made to co-operate with the CSA. However, a spokesman for the Department of Social Security dismissed the report as "one-sided and biased".

8 Child Support: Issues of the Future - available from CPAG Ltd, 125 Bath Street, London EC1V 9PY at pounds 5.95