A New Tory Punishment for Single Parents, CSA
Reposted from Mums Against The Cuts
My name is Loraine and I’m a single parent. I’m here to tell you about my experience of CSA, lone parent poverty and my opinion of the proposed changes to the way the system works.
I became a single parent in 1999. After a violent, abusive marriage I had decided I would rather be on my own with my young baby than living in fear of the next attack. I had zero self esteem, I had no money, no hope, but I knew that anything had to be better than this. I snapped the day he held me by my throat in front of our daughter who was screaming as she witnessed the assault. My dog trembling in the corner, too afraid to move. She knew what happened if she did. As his hands squeezed around my windpipe I remember promising myself that I would never allow my child to think this behaviour is normal. A healthy relationship does not consist of violence and fear. I had spent years petrified of every word I spoke, every movement I made. All but one of my friends had been driven away. My parents had been driven away from my home but being completely alone was better than suffering daily abuse and allowng my daughter to believe that was normal. So when he’d finished his latest attack I locked the door and decided he wasn’t coming back in, and I started my journey as a single mother in that moment.
In 1999 things were a little different to the way they are now. We had no tax credits, they hadn’t been invented. I applied for Income Support as a single parent. I remember the first award notice I received, it said I was entitled to£71.10 a week. I cashed my first giro and began my new life. I had no idea what was ahead of us. We could also claim Income Support until our youngest child was 16. Aside from the demonisation lone mothers endured we were financially, pretty much left to get on with it. There was no work focused interview every 6 months.
In 1999 the rules concerning child maintenance were different to how they are now. Now we are allowed to keep all of the maintenance we are awarded, back then we weren’t, but we had to apply. My best friend’s sister had refused to apply and subsequently had her Income Support docked until she complied. Yes, that’s right, they used to deduct an amount from our income as punishment. I filled mine out. It was followed by a visit from a very nice lady who wrote down all my incomings and outgoings. She then visited my ex husband who was sleeping on a friends floor at the time and did the same with him. I eventually received a letter informing me that I was entitled to nothing. That’s right, a big fat zero. My ex husband thought that was so funny he paid me a visit to laugh in my face. I was humiliated once again.
When I had made my decision to become a single parent I was completely unaware of the financial problems I would face. While my childhood was not full of riches, I was not aware at the time of how tough it was financially. We always had food, we always had clothes. What lay ahead of me was a total surprise.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this scene:
You have cashed your money at the post office and paid all the weekly payments for your bills. You’ve bought nappies and used your milk token for formula. Just for a moment imagine the heartbreak when you realise that you can’t have bread and milk this week, it’s one or the other because you can’t afford both. There will be no treats, the zoo is out of the question, and certainly no bus fare, it’s shanksys pony for us till next Thursday. That used to be a weekly occurance for us. That broke my heart. As children get older they start to understand and that hurts even more. I stood in many shops holding open my empty purse to my child explaining there was no money left for the sweets she wanted, the coat her friends were wearing, even for the shoes she needed. I dreaded school trips, I still do because they cost money I often don’t have.
The worst experience of poverty I had was Boxing Day 2006. I was a working single parent then but still hadn’t managed to lift us out of poverty. Christmas Day I knew we were running out of electric, the meter said 50p left, so I put my daughter to bed early and got the candles out instead of using the lights. I woke up on Boxing Day at 8am. I found my daughter sat in the hallway playing one of the board games she’d been given for Christmas. I tried the lights.My electric had gone, emergency and all. I had £4, which as some people will know isn’t enough to get the meter working again, you have to put in an extra £1 above emergency to get it to kick in. I had to ask my 7 year old daughter if I could borrow some money off her to get the lights back on, to make the tv work, to cook dinner later, to even make her a cup of tea. She gave me £3 bless her and told me not to worry, but I did. How awful that I had to ask my child for electric money? I was working for heaven’s sake! I should be able to afford electric!
Now, before anyone jumps up and down, I did not spend a ridiculous amount of money on presents or food. I spent a tenner in the pound shop for presents and I bought no extra food, we had our Christmas dinner at my parent’s house, so that wasn’t the reason I was broke. I was working for an agency and my hours had recently been cut. Instead of a full time wage I was bringing home a part time wage and really struggling. I was extremely grateful that I lived in a council property because I would never have been able to afford a private sector rent.
For 11 years the CSA sent me letters informing me that my ex husband owed me nothing. Even when I told them he was working, where he was working and where he was living I still received that same letter year after year. An extra fiver would have made a difference.
£20 a week would have meant bread, milk, bus fare and perhaps a treat for my daughter, but she was given nothing from him except 15 house moves to keep us safe from him and years of nightmares. The CSA did nothing for us.My ex husband passed away in 2009 so I will never be sent a letter saying he owes me anything.
This government wants to charge parents for that pleasure. They want to charge an upfront fee of £100 (£50 if you’re on benefits). If I’d have been forced to pay that I would have wasted my money and been plunged into deeper poverty at that point. Children from lone parent households are more likely to live in poverty (46% of children from lone parent families live in poverty. 24% of children from 2 parent families live in poverty)
It has been stated that victims of domestic violence will be exempt, however it can be extremely difficult to prove abuse. I never had a black eye or a broken bone, all my injuries were hidden and victims are very often too ashamed or afraid to report the abuse. It took me years to report my ex husband, Christmas 1999 was the first phone call I made to the police and my first hospital visit. He was never charged.
The proposals don’t end there. They also want to charge an admin fee on every single maintenance payment a child receives (between 7% and 12%). For those lucky enough to receive payment, they will now be paying continuously for the priviledge. Such an idea does not equate to stealing money from parents, it’s stealing the money destined for the children.
I understand that CSA is a flawed service. It need fixing so that thousands of children can receive financial support from non resident parents, but why are the government insisting that our children should be the ones who pay for it? If Maria Miller’s house needed renovation, would she ask my child to pay the builders fees? The same logic applies here. Our children did not create a defunct service, the government of the day did and the following governments share the blame for not changing the system, not our children.
I consider myself fortunate that the father of my two youngest children is a reasonable person. We have our own arrangement in place and have not been forced to use the CSA.
I would also like to say something in response to the many attacks lone parents have endured from senior politicians in the last 18 months.
It is widely believed that lone parents are predominantly from families with a history of long term unemployment, that our parents are usually single parents themselves, that we choose to bring up our children alone out of some peverse lifestyle choice, that it’s deliberate, planned and that we are lazy, irresponsible and promiscuous teenagers, that we have babies to climb council waiting lists. I can assure you, that it not the case for the majority of lone parents. We’re not all women either.
The average age of a lone parent is 37.5 (I am 33 years old)
Less than 2% of us are teenagers.
Just over half of us had our children within a marriage. (51% are seperated, divorced or widowed)
More than half of us are in employment.
Around 10% of us are men.
Only 6.5% of all births are registered alone. 10% are registered to 2 parents who live apart.
I do not party. I do not drink. I do not have a social life and I do not have a car. I have had 3 boyfriends in 12 years. It took me 8 years to decide to have more children. I spend my money on the things my children need, not myself. I have been homeless twice. I work harder at home than I ever did in paid employment. I’m on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I do not get a day off, I do not have a tea break, I do not get a bonus at the end of the month as a pat on the back for doing a good job. My work as a parent is not considered praise worthy by ministers, I am treated with contempt, pointed at, laughed at and demonised by people who have never experienced the hardship of raising a child alone. Worse than that, my children are considered to be a drain on the precious economy, future criminals, and one particular minister has explained in great detail how my daughters will become promiscuous playthings for gang members and my son is going to become a drug dealing gang member. I have morals. My parents raised me to be responsible, which is the very reason I left an abusive, violent marriage. I am sensible, intelligent and strong. I’ve had to be to survive. My 13 year old daughter is now full of confidence, bubbly and intelligent. She is polite, responsible and has potential, real potential. She isn’t alone. There are millions of children from lone parent households who are destined to do great things. Lone parents and their children should be praised for that, rewarded and respected. Instead we are demonised, vilified and punished repeatedly for keeping our children safe, for doing the work of two parents, for being mum and dad. Our children are robbed of opportunity and repeatedly told by minsters that they will amount to nothing, they are the cause of all the ills in our society. Now they want to punish us further by crippling us financially by daring to ask for help to receive the maintenance our children deserve from non resident parents, they want our children to pay for their refurbishment of a service that we didn’t create or break. The CSA is a last resort. It is the final place people go to for help. They say they want to encourage parents to make their own arrangements. In my opinion that will result in thousands simply not applying, thousands not receiving what they are rightfully owed, thousands of children being forced into the poverty myself and my daughter endured, for what? For some new punishment intiative from a Tory-led government who never really liked us in the first place.
By Loraine Hardy
Please take a look at Gingerbread’s website for updates on the CSA proposals which are contained in the Welfare Reform Bill