Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Relate

    —    About Relate.

    —    Our work with DWP and CSA.

    —    Our views on the increased support which should be offered by C-MEC (Q.1).

    —    Our views on the proposed new sanctions for non-payers (Q.6).

  This is Relate's submission to the Work & Pensions Committee's inquiry considering the proposals contained in the Government White Paper: A New System of Child Maintenance.

  Relate is the UK's largest provider of counselling services, with 150,000 clients a year. We provide counselling on all aspects of people's intimate relationships, and we see individuals, couples, single parents, ex-partners, families, and children.

  Since the announcement of the Henshaw Review, we have had many conversations with ministers and officials within the DWP and CSA. To date we have found them very open to our position—namely, that separating parents want, and need, much more support in helping them come, and stick, to arrangements over contact and maintenance. We are pleased that the White Paper explicitly mentions our services, and those of similar organisations, as possible "solutions" for parents struggling to come to private arrangements. We hope to continue working with the Department, and the new agency, to ensure that this commitment to support services translates into greater accessibility, greater uptake, and a greater number of parents adhering to arrangements which are in the best interests of children.

  1.  (page 38) We strongly welcome the aim of encouraging greater access to support services by parents. Our experience—as well as the evidence given by parents themselves—is that emotional support is one of the most important needs of parents trying to come to amicable arrangements over contact and maintenance in the midst of separation.

  We hope that the C-MEC will actually direct (and, in cases of hardship, fund) potential claimants to counselling, and other therapeutic, services, when they first make a claim, or contact them for information. This will help them deal with their feelings toward their ex-partner—usually the root cause behind both non-payment of maintenance, and the withholding of contact—and move beyond them to a co-parenting arrangement, which lasts.

  To do this, C-MEC should build on, and invest in, existing provision of such.  services within the voluntary sector, and look at ways in which this can enable national coverage of such services. It could also reward agencies where they can be shown to have helped individual parents to reach amicable private arrangements, having been referred by C-MEC.

  6.  (page 77) We support strong enforcement of a non-resident parent's (NRP),  financial responsibilities to their children, particularly as an incentive to encourage payment. However, we note that many non-paying NRPs.  are those least likely to be able to pay—men with low skill levels, and erratic work histories. We are also concerned about the effect of some sanctions on second families.

  These concerns highlight the need to have support available that is easily accessible, and properly suited to the needs of separated parents. Greater support justifies the use of tougher sanctions for those who do not take it up; it is also likely to be cheaper than the application of these sanctions. Most non-payments are down to the entrenched conflict between, and hurt and anger felt by, ex-partners as a result of the breakdown of their relationships. Dealing with these issues through targeted support will help parents put their children first, and develop long-lasting, flexible private agreements, without the need for expensive sanctions which will do little to improve children's well-being.

8 January 2007

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