On Wednesday night, the Coalition Government suffered its biggest defeat in the House of Lords since it was elected. It was a landslide: 270 over 128. The vote was for an amendment to the planned CSA charges, tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Last year, I wrote and wrote and wrote about the Government’s plans to charge single parents with care of their children to apply for child maintenance – and to take part of the money that was collected. I didn’t just write about it on my blog: I wrote to my MP and I wrote to the Consultation, as well as speaking to them on the phone (my questions about fairness expertly sidestepped.) I wasn’t the only one: single parent charity Gingerbread were working tirelessly to oppose the charges and many more people wrote letters and emails and made exasperated phone calls. No one paid any attention.
What the Government didn’t seem to understand is that for many women (and it is women in 97% of cases,) using the CSA is not a choice. Asking an agency to track down your child’s father and demand money is not an enjoyable thing to do (despite the common misconception that women who use it are cackling, money-grabbing scroungers.) You’d much rather they just contributed a little; helped out with school meals or swimming lessons, that kind of thing. When you don’t even know where your child’s father is, you can’t begin to try to come to an amicable agreement. Yet still, Maria Miller and her colleagues kept talking about how marriage separation is a difficult time and about how people would be given the ‘choice’ to come to their own amicable arrangements, all stuff that just isn’t applicable to many single parents. The charges would mean that many parents wouldn’t be able to afford to apply in the first place and that even if they could, the money their children needed would be discounted. It made no sense, it was completely unfair and it was ludicrous.
Then along came Lord Mackay of Clashfern, leading a wonderful revolt and talking absolute sense. In an interview with the Guardian, he had this to say:
“When a woman – as a typical example – has taken all reasonable steps and done all she can to reach an agreement but cannot manage it, I do not agree that she should be charged by the CSA for her application … That is utterly unfair. If anyone is to pay for that, surely it should be the person who has caused the difficulty by trying to escape from his moral obligations.”
“For many parents raising children on one income, making ends meet is already a struggle particularly in these straightened times. Child maintenance from the non-resident parent – even a modest amount – can play a vital role in protecting children. For those unable to persuade the non-resident parent to pay voluntarily, the combination of application and collection charges will be a bitter blow, effectively taking money away from their children.”
When I watched him speaking in the House of Lords (here at 2:42), I cried. Finally, a Conservative MP who wants fairness, a man who understands the reality for thousands of single parents. I never thought I would want to hug a Tory peer.
I can’t give Lord Mackay of Clashfern a hug, but I am going to write him a thank you letter – and I hope others who helped campaign against these charges will have the time to do the same.