Letter: Women's poverty, absent fathers and children's needs

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The Independent Online
Sir: Unfortunately, there is more to the furore over the Child Support Agency than sleepy parliamentarians (leading article, 7 December). There is also an abyss of ignorance to be remedied before the CSA can get its figures right.

The CSA takes the income support allowances as its reference point when deciding how much absent parents should pay for their children, but the income support allowances have almost nothing to do with need; they are the product of history and politics. The CSA allows nothing for travel-to-work costs. Nor does the Inland Revenue or the Department of Social Security. It is all part of the same unviable tradition.

The Family Budget Unit has collected and collated a mass of figures. Soon we should be able to estimate the living costs of most UK families. But so far the Government has turned a deaf ear because our research shows the high costs of bringing up children.

To reach a modest but adequate level (defined as 'well above the requirements of survival and decency, but well below affluence') a couple with two young children needs gross earnings of about pounds 20,000 a year or nearly pounds 400 a week. That allows them a secondhand car and an annual holiday in self-catering accommodation in the UK. To make ends meet at all, if a car is necessary to get to work, similar families need gross earnings of about pounds 15,000, even if they economise.

Earlier this year it was the unit fines system; now it is the CSA; next year it will be the recently announced tax increases. So long as politicians continue legislating in ignorance, the poverty and heartbreak will continue.

Yours faithfully,

HERMIONE PARKER

Director

Family Budget Unit

King's College

London, W8

7 December

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