Victims of domestic violence are in most cases vulnerable, and as a Member of Parliament it is my duty to stand up for them.
Supporting victims of domestic violence should go without saying, and the Government should not have to be embarrassed into recognising that they have made a mistake. Ultimately, we all have the right to live securely and without fear, and Government policy should reflect that.
Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. It may be a right for women to live free from fear and abuse, but it is far from a reality. All too often the Government neglect their responsibility to look after the most vulnerable in society and fail to rectify blatantly bad policy because it’s not politically expedient.
That must change. In the case of domestic abuse victim-survivors, it’s too important and potentially dangerous to play games with.
The Child Maintenance Service offers security and reassurance to those that require it. It removes any requirement of communication with a former partner, whilst providing some level of financial security and independence. It’s a service that works for those who need it.
The policy to charge former couples who are in a position to communicate with each other, and can set-up an arrangement out-with the Maintenance Service, has a slight logic to it – except that not all former couples are amicable, and this can lead to dangerous situations.
It is completely illogical and immoral to encourage victims of domestic abuse to engage with their ex-partners. On one hand, the advice given to those experiencing the coercion and danger of domestic abuse is to escape. One of the biggest barriers to this freedom is financial dependence, and yet the Government sees fit to charge women for asserting their rights to child maintenance.
These are not just my words, either. In response to a written question, the Minister in charge of the Child Maintenance Service said: “the introduction of fees and ongoing collection charges are designed to act as an incentive for parents to pause and consider the different options available to them for a child maintenance arrangement, rather than applying to the statutory Child Maintenance Service ‘by default’.”
So, essentially, the Government are urging women who have fled violent relationships to pause and reflect on whether they can engage with their ex partners. That is ethically dubious and practically dangerous.
At present, there is an exemption in place from the application fee for victims of domestic violence, but there is no waiver from the ongoing fees for those using the service which are 20% for the paying parent on top of the maintenance due, and 4% of the maintenance due for the receiving parent.
The Government must urgently consider the far-reaching challenges associated with this policy, and exclude victims-survivors of domestic abuse from collection charges. That way we will ensure that the support owed to their children is paid and that those victims-survivors are not distressed further by having to make contact with a former violent partner.