THOUSANDS of youngsters from broken homes on Wearside could lose vital support payments if Government plans are given the go-ahead, charity bosses warned today.
New figures show up to 5,440 youngsters in Sunderland are under threat of missing out on financial help if plans to charge parents for using the future Child Support Agency (CSA) are passed by the House of Lords.
The research by Gingerbread and Barnardo’s reveals the CSA is continuing to improve, delivering a total of £6,285,000 to children in separated families in the city over the last year.
But faced with the proposed fees, the charities fear, many of Sunderland’s 7,960 separated parents caring for children and using the agency could be left without support.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said many would be unable to afford the charges and, therefore, without hope of getting their former partner to pay up voluntarily.
For children, that could mean doing without basics as their parents struggle against austerity cuts.
“The Government says it wants to help separated families, but CSA charges would rip money away from families who can’t manage without it,” said Ms Weir.
“The Government must drop the charging plan to give all children a fair chance of decent support from both parents after separation.”
Peers will debate the Government’s child maintenance proposals when the Welfare Reform Bill has its second reading on September 13.
Gingerbread is urging them to press for the proposed future CSA charges to be dropped.
Ms Weir said: “The average child maintenance amount is now £22.50 per week through the CSA.
“That’s significant money for thousands of single-parent families in Sunderland whose budgets are battered by austerity cuts.”
Neera Sharma, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy and research, described the plans as “unjust”.
“The Government’s proposed charges are unjust and risk taking money away from those children who need it most,” she said. “Small amounts of money make a big difference to families living below the breadline.
“Barnardo’s is calling for the Government to abandon its proposals to charge upfront and ongoing fees to families living on low incomes.”
However, Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said the new maintenance system would help parents to sort their own arrangements, leaving state service to target the unwilling.
“Most separated parents want to support their children without interference from the state,” said Ms Miller. “But these figures show that there is still an irresponsible hardcore trying to avoid their legal duty. Our reforms will help and reward parents who make collaborative, family-based arrangements and free-up the state service to chase those who do not meet their financial responsibility to their children.”