Part of Orders of the Day — Child Support Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 22nd May 1995.

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Photo of Mr Derek Enright Mr Derek Enright , Hemsworth 5:30 pm, 22nd May 1995

I have surgeries or appointments every week, and not a week has gone by without someone complaining to me about the unjust workings of the Child Support Act. They do not complain about the Act itself; most fathers admit that they have a duty to pay what their children require to receive a decent upbringing. They are complaining about the fact that the payment formula has been worked out in such a way that the poorest sections of the population are badly hit.

In particular, second families in which the husband is dutifully paying what he is required to pay have suddenly been made to double their payments. That is a major problem in low-wage areas such as the one that I represent: it is entirely wrong for those bringing up children on poverty wages suddenly to have sub-poverty wages thrust on them, and the exemptions demanded by the new clause would make a considerable difference.

It is not as if the Child Support Agency were currently at its most efficient. We were assured that the calculations affecting both the single partner requiring maintenance—male or female—and those paying the maintenance would be made more efficiently, but that has not happened. The cases that infuriate me most involve ladies whose husbands have left them and their children to fend for themselves: the agency personnel say that they cannot possibly deal with those cases within two years, and are making no effort to find husbands who are not low earners but are, in fact, doing extraordinarily well. Where is the stretching of manpower that the Government claimed would be achieved?

It is a question of natural justice—of the recognition that families fall apart, and that we must do our best to foster the new relationships that result without exacerbating difficulties between former partners. Previously, when wives—predominantly—were left on their own, they and their children received allowances in addition to other allowances; now they do not. The allowances are cut to a minimum, so that parents cannot bring up their children decently. Moreover, such parents are unable to secure even the part-time jobs that exist in my constituency, because they are so poorly paid that the money would make no difference to their allowances.

No doubt the Government will reject the new clause, but I hope that they will show themselves to be flexible and imaginative. The Bill has its roots in cross-party co-operation: the ideals that inspired it are essentially cross-party, and those ideals remain.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will feel able to examine the position and do what they can. I hope that they will understand the difficulties experienced by a woman with one, two or three children who is shut up on her own because it is not worth her while to go out and get a job, and the effect that those difficulties will have on her children. That applies particularly in an area such as mine, where there are few diversions that provide opportunities to meet other people. Jobs often provide the only chance for people to come together. The Bill is a disincentive for families to take jobs.

Laying down a rate and taking a fixed amount from a man's wage makes the abandoned family, if we may call it that, no better off, but makes the new family infinitely worse off. That is precisely what is happening in terms of the marginal levels. We have made a meagre suggestion to try to alleviate some of the difficulties. It is not a massive step, and we may be criticised for not tabling a more substantial amendment. However, that meagre measure should be considered. It would cost the Treasury scarcely anything, if anything at all when one considers the way that crime could be prevented by a sensible use of this measure. The Government should accept it.