LETTER : Fighting for child support

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Sir: Peter Lilley's proposals to impose a 40 per cent cut on the benefits of lone parents who refuse to co-operate with the Child Support Agency will cause untold hardship to the poorest children in the country (report, 1 April).

All the lone mothers in our study of the Child Support Act published this week supported the principle that fathers had a continuing obligation to support their children. Many of the mothers we interviewed had worked hard to establish arrangements for maintenance and contact with children with former partners, which all were happy with; these parents were extremely distressed at being forced by the Child Support Act to renegotiate these arrangements.

We also found lone mothers who were reluctant to co-operate with the Child Support Agency because of fears of violence from a former partner; some of these lone mothers had not been properly informed by the agency of their rights to withhold consent to a maintenance claim. We found lone mothers who had been placed under considerable pressure by the agency to complete a maintenance application form but who, two years later, were still waiting for an acknowledgement, let alone maintenance from a former partner.

Above all, we found lone mothers who were disillusioned that their children would receive none of the maintenance paid on their behalf. So long as families on Income Support have all maintenance deducted pound for pound from their benefit (and families on Family Credit are allowed only to keep pounds 15 maintenance), then neither mothers nor fathers have any incentive to co-operate with the Child Support Agency.

Allowing lone parent families on Income Support to keep some maintenance might encourage a greater willingness to co-operate with the agency, as well as providing some real gains for the children concerned.

Karen Clarke

Caroline Glendinning

School of Social Policy

University of Manchester

Gary Craig

University of Humberside