Gingerbread supports legal action against the DWP to address critical failings of the Child Maintenance Service

Gingerbread supports legal action against the DWP to address critical failings of the Child Maintenance Service

Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, is partnering with Mumsnet and the Good Law Project (GLP) to support four women who have sent a Letter Before Claim to notify the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of their intention to seek a Judicial Review due to:

“…the persistent failure by the Child Maintenance Service to collect child maintenance payments from absent parents leaving the parent with primary care of the children in financial difficulty and in some cases in poverty.”

Child maintenance is the money a non-resident parent should pay to support their child’s upbringing. There are many ways in which separated parents can agree child maintenance payments. Many go through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and use either the Direct Pay or Collect and Pay service. Over 700,000 children are covered by these arrangements. However, failings of the CMS, mean that there is currently £354m in arrears owed to children.[1]

This isn’t a new problem, the Child Support Agency (CSA), which was replaced by the CMS in 2012, also failed to ensure maintenance was paid and between the CSA and CMS over £4bn of maintenance payments have gone unpaid.[2] The Letter Before Claim lays bare the systemic failures within the CMS:

  • Around a third (43%) of children covered by Collect and Pay arrangements are not receiving a penny of the maintenance they are legally entitled to[3]
  • There are £354m in arrears, yet just £31m has been collected through CMS enforcement actions – less than 10% of the figure that is owed[4]
  • Despite over 100,000 non-compliant parents and the enforcement powers the CMS has, just three passports were confiscated in 2019.[5]

This non-payment means many single parent families are living in poverty. Research has shown that for those who are owed maintenance and are living in poverty, being paid the child maintenance they are due would lift around 60% of them out of the poverty trap.

Gingerbread and the claimants are calling for:

  1. The systemic review of the Child Maintenance Service to enable it to start working for the children and parents it was set up to serve.
  2. Effective enforcement where non-resident parents refuse to pay the money they owe to their children.

Notes:

  • [1] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 11
  • [2] HoC Library (2019) Child maintenance: the multi-billion-pound write-off of arrears on Child Support Agency cases (GB).
  • [3] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 6
  • [4] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 12.1
  • [5] DWP (2020) Child Maintenance Service statistics: data to December 2019. Table 12.2

Find out more about the legal action and our #FixTheCMS campaign

Part of a longer press release at https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/what-we-do/news/gingerbread-supports-legal-action-against-the-dwp-to-address-critical-failings-of-the-child-maintenance-service/

 

July 3, 2020

New Inquiry research finds that racism and cultural stereotypes impact institutional response to child sexual abuse – IICSA

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research exploring barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research exploring barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse.

Working in collaboration with the Race Equality Foundation, the report analyses the views and experiences of over 80 individuals across a range of ethnic minority communities, including victims and survivors. It considers three key areas: barriers to disclosure; experiences of institutions; and support for victims and survivors.

The report finds that racism, sometimes in the form of cultural stereotypes can lead to failures on the part of institutions in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.

“The social worker was white, okay, and she said to me, ‘This is not sexual abuse. This is your culture’. Even today, I’m so traumatised by this.”

Female focus group participant

Participants explained how such stereotypes can act as a barrier to reporting abuse, describing a sense of feeling ‘othered’ by institutions, creating mistrust, which also underpinned issues around disclosure and reporting. They spoke of a lack of diversity within institutions and how this can exacerbate a sense of difference for people from an ethnic minority background.

“I just wish social services just barged in and took me into care, and took me and my siblings into care … but they were so intent on not coming across racist or coming across culturally insensitive that they forgot about the person that was being hurt here.”

Female focus group participant

The report shines a light on the multitude of challenges victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities face in disclosing child sexual abuse including denial, concerns over damage to reputation, a fear of being ostracised from the community for speaking out, or simply having no one to report to.

“The institutions weren’t there, the people that you could speak to weren’t there, and I had to do all of this work my own self…”

Male focus group participant

It finds that shame and stigma associated with abuse can contribute to a code of silence within some communities; rather than meet the needs of the victim, responses to abuse seek to preserve honour, with participants describing how secrecy may operate as a means of protection for the community.

Many participants felt they’d have more to lose than gain if they reported child sexual abuse, given the structural barriers that people from ethnic minority communities may already face.

“I was thinking that there’s a lot of pressure on the survivor not to speak, by their families, of bringing shame to the family and that shame to the community. So it can be your immediate family; your extended family, but even your community. And there’s also a sense of, white people see us as bad and now you’re showing them how bad you are.”

Female focus group participant

Some survivors said they felt raw and damaged as a result of the abuse, and described how they battled with feeling robbed physically, emotionally and spiritually. A number of participants reported having to deal with the impact of being cut off from their families or communities following disclosure, making other forms of support more crucial. Whilst a few participants did describe a positive experience of support, this wasn’t the case for the majority. Survivors said they didn’t know where to turn, or services offering support were just not there.

Part of a longer press release at https://www.iicsa.org.uk/news/new-inquiry-research-finds-racism-and-cultural-stereotypes-impact-institutional-response-child

 

July 1, 2020

Non-fatal strangulation: Joint statement from the Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner

The Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC and Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs are calling on the Government to introduce a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill

The two Commissioners have issued the following joint statement:

We are disappointed that this has not been introduced into the Bill at the report stage and call on the Minister to consider this more closely.

Non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation is an utterly terrifying experience and can cause significant long-term mental and physical trauma to victims and survivors.

It is a common tool used by abusers to show their victims that they can kill them if they wanted to, in order to instil fear and compliance in their pursuit of absolute control.

Victims can lose consciousness in 10 to 15 seconds and lack of oxygen to the brain results in mild brain damage.

It can also cause long-term damage including fractured trachea, neurological injuries, tinnitus, ear bleeding, internal bleeding, dizziness, loss of memory and even stroke months later as a result of blood clots.

And that is not withstanding the significant mental and emotional trauma of such an experience, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not only does non-fatal strangulation cause untold harm in its own right, but research shows that it is a clear indicator of extreme levels of coercive control and violence, with those subject to strangulation having an eight-fold increase in the risk of death.

Despite this, the law is failing victims and survivors and the penalties associated with strangulation do not reflect the significant harm inflicted.

There is currently no specific offence of non-fatal strangulation, and we see significant under-charging by police and prosecutors, who often fail to understand and appreciate the severity of this crime.

Instead, police often charge perpetrators with Common Assault rather than the more appropriate Actual Bodily Harm.

This results in inadequate risk assessment for victims and survivors and perpetrators evading real justice.

In many cases perpetrators avoid prosecution altogether when offences come to light six months after they have taken place (the time limit for charging common assault).

A specific offence with appropriate sanctions would make the harm and dangers of non-fatal strangulation – and the appropriate action by law enforcement – crystal clear.

There is precedent here; the Coalition Government rightly sought to introduce a specific offence for behaviour known as ‘revenge porn’ in order to underline the seriousness of the offence and address chronic under-charging.

We can also learn from international best practice: New Zealand, the US and Australia have all introduced specific offences for non-fatal strangulation and have found that doing so has been a more effective criminal sanction and helped to increase awareness of the issue.

Therefore, we strongly call on the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to introduce a freestanding offence of strangulation or asphyxiation.

This would require the police and criminal justice agencies to treat cases with the gravity that they deserve and sends a strong signal to the wider public about the severity of this terrifying crime.

As it stands, the law is inadequate, and we must take the opportunity afforded by the Domestic Abuse Bill to bring perpetrators to justice and keep victims and survivors safe.

Dame Vera Baird QC
Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales

Nicole Jacobs
Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales

This statement is also available as a pdf.

https://victimscommissioner.org.uk/news/non-fatal-strangulation-joint-statement-from-the-victims-commissioner-and-domestic-abuse-commissioner/

 

July 1, 2020

Major overhaul of family courts to protect domestic abuse victims – Ministry of Justice

Survivors of domestic abuse and their children will receive greater protections after the government announced an overhaul of how the family courts deal with the horrific crime on 25 June 2020.

  • more victims to receive special protections in court
  • stronger powers for judges to prevent abusers repeatedly dragging a victim back to court
  • new investigative court process trialled to reduce conflict

Sweeping reforms will see more victims of domestic abuse given access to separate building entrances and waiting rooms as well as protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.

Ministers will also make it easier for judges to issue barring orders which prevent abusive ex-partners from repeatedly dragging their victims back to court – which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.

The move comes after an expert-led review into how the family courts handle domestic abuse and other serious offences raised concerns that victims and children were being put at unnecessary risk.

The expert panel was made up of representatives from charities, the judiciary, family law practitioners and academia, and took the views of more than 1,200 individuals and organisations.

It found that an adversarial process in the family courts often worsened conflict between parents, which could retraumatise victims and their children.

Fundamental reform of how the courts hear cases, through a new investigative approach, will be trialled as part of the Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts pilot – these consider family and criminal matters in parallel in order to provide more consistent support for victims. Emphasis will be placed on getting to the root of an issue and ensuring all parties are safe and able to provide evidence on an equal footing – without the retraumatising effects of being in court with an abusive ex-partner.

Additionally, Ministers will launch a review into the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ that often encourages a child’s relationship with both parents, unless the involvement of that parent would put the child at risk. It will examine whether the right balance is being struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, and the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents. The government welcomes this key recommendation which requires careful consideration to implement correctly – further details about the review will be announced in due course.

The measures form part on an Implementation Plan published by Ministers today which sets out immediate and longer-term steps to better protect victims in the family courts.  These include:

  • Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings as part of an upcoming pilot of Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.
  • Giving automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts – such as separate waiting rooms, entrances and screens – via a further amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.
  • Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.
  • A commitment to change the provision on ‘barring orders’, which prevent abusers repeatedly dragging ex-partners back to court over child arrangements. Ministers will review whether this is best done through legislative or non-legislative means.
  • Inviting the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner to monitor and report on private family law proceedings involving victims of domestic abuse.

The changes build on the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, currently before Parliament, which transforms our response to dealing with perpetrators and protecting victims. Key measures in the Bill include:

  • creating a statutory definition of domestic abuse, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse
  • establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to drive the response to domestic abuse.
  • introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders
  • place a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation
  • prohibit perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts in England and Wales
  • enable domestic abuse offenders to be subject to polygraph testing as a condition of their licence following their release from custody
  • place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s law’) on a statutory footing

The Bill is backed by £35 million to support victims and their children – with an additional £76 million extra funding announced in May to support vulnerable victims during the Coronavirus pandemic, including victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Part of a longer press release https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-overhaul-of-family-courts-to-protect-domestic-abuse-victims

June 29, 2020

Improve Maternal Mortality Rates and Health Care for Black Women in the UK – Petition to Parliament

Black Women in the U.K. are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to White Women (MBRRACE, 2019).

We need more research done into why this is happening and recommendations to improve health care for Black Women as urgent action is needed to address this disparity.

The Government must commit to funding the changes necessary to eradicate these statistics and improve maternal health care outcomes for Black Women.

Between 2015-2017 the chance of death for Black Women was 38 out of 100,000 however it was 7 out of 100,000 for White Women according to the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity.

An urgent explanation and tangible action needs to be done by the Government to stop this number increasing and putting Black Women’s lives in danger.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/301079

June 18, 2020