I usually find Wednesday mornings in the House of Commons chamber very frustrating. Prime Minister’s Questions, where the atmosphere is combative and short on answers, never seem to get us anywhere. This is unlike the questions to other secretaries of state at the start of every other parliamentary day, where it’s possible to get useful information or challenge the government in a constructive manner.
But yesterday, immediately after PMQs was over, I got a useful reply to a question I asked on behalf of a person in Bristol West I’ve been helping.
The answer came from the Speaker, however!
I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of how well, or otherwise, the Child Maintenance Service is doing at recovering money from self-employed absent parents. I’ve heard from several of my constituents of their frustration when their ex-partner, father of their children, managed to disguise their self-employed income in order to avoid paying fair maintenance for their children.
This is something I feel very strongly about. Too often, well-off men, having left the mother of their children to care for those children, fail to recognise that maintenance is part of their duty to those children.
In my previous job, working with men who’ve been violent and abusive to their partners, ex-partners and sometimes children, these men often use non-co-operation over maintenance as a way of continuing their control over their ex-partner. Not all separated dads have used violence, but some seem to treat maintenance in the same way: as something to deny their ex-partner rather than their obligation to their children, and use any way they can to avoid paying.
I am frustrated that the Child Maintenance Service appears to be not to be using all the tools at their disposal to ensure that self-employed parents pay their fair share towards the needs of their own children. This failure causes real hardship.
I’d tried to find our more from the Department of Work and Pensions about how they’re doing on recovering money from self-employed parents. They said they do hold that information but that it is too expensive to provide to me.
I don’t think that’s acceptable, and neither did the Speaker when I asked for his guidance on how to get past this brick wall. He gave me several good suggestions, which I will follow up. If they’re not successful, I’ve got a few more ideas as a result of further conversations with the Parliamentary Clerks.
My constituents, the people of Bristol West, are the people who matter most to me – and I’ll keep on working hard for what matters to you.
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