What about kinship care families?: the unintended consequence of changes to tax credits

On Monday, the UK’s Tory government were forced to delay their proposed changes to tax credits. In a Guardian report today, according to the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the government can easily slow the pace of the tax-credit cuts, not least because by 2020, two-thirds of tax credit recipients could be worse off.

The delay does not go far enough, but it does allow time for a more thorough assessment of the potential impact of the cuts on different families. Worryingly, when Andrew Gwynne MP asked a Minister what assessment had been done on the impact of tax credit cuts on kinship care families, it was clear that none had been done:

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Link to video: https://www.facebook.com/andrewgwynnemp/videos/875395322578963/

Family Rights Group, a London based charity that campaigns for Kinship carer rights, are fighting for this assessment. They argue that one potentially unintended consequence of the changes is that they might deter people from taking up kinship care (which entails keeping children in the family). This is especially the case because many kinship carers take on three or more children.

In the last few months I have interviewed seven men for the ‘Men, care and lifetimes of poverty’ project and of those seven, two have found themselves in a position where they have taken on, or are being asked to take on three or more children. They are already living within financial constraints. One, who I call Rob here, is a sixty-one year old grandfather who is currently unemployed so that he can look after his grandchildren. He is a kinship carer for his two granddaughters and his grandson, following the death of both his daughter and later, his wife. When decisions were made about how the children would be looked after, it was decided that his grandson be split up from his sisters. Despite Rob wanting to care for all three children, his grandson had to go to a care home, because his grandfather didn’t have enough space in his house and the council did not respond quickly enough to the needs of the family. Rob moved to new, bigger social housing and at that point his grandson started to live with him. The 17-year-old is currently in prison and has behavioural issues that Rob says are very difficult for him to manage. Imagine him then losing tax credits and child benefit, on top of the bedroom tax he is forced to pay while his grandson is in prison.

Another, who I shall call Toby, is 37. He has two sons of his own (12 and 2) and following the death of his sister in April, now lives in her home five days a week while he tries to re-house her two eldest children, his 19 year-old nephew and 17 year-old niece (who also has her own one-year old daughter) and two younger nephews, aged 12 and 8 (one of whom he suspects has behavioural issues). Toby is living between two households while he awaits information from social services about how best to proceed. He is currently making the difficult choice. They are either adopted out of the family or he applies for an SGO (Special Guardianship Order) for his youngest nephews and moves them back to his own home. This will make him unexpectedly a father of four, and while he will get some funding for holding a SGO, this is time limited and at the discretion of social workers who are making financial decisions about an already squeezed budget (in a paper due to be published by the end of this year, Brid Featherstone and I argue about the constraints on social services in making decisions about SGOs). Toby has left his job to support the children (his sister’s death happened not long before the school summer holidays) and has spent all of his life’s savings on household bills, food and all of the things that children need. He wants to keep the boys in the family but financial precarity may prevent him from doing so. If Toby takes the children on he won’t receive child benefits for them because they will be above the two-child maximum. With the rising costs in childcare he is unlikely to be able to afford to go back to work. Imagine taking more financial support away from him and his family when all he is trying to do is do the right thing by his sister and his sister’s children.

See the Family Rights Group website for further information.

These are just two experiences I have heard within a small sample of seven men. I write this piece to highlight the very real human costs that the tax credit changes have the potential to inflict, particularly on kinship care families. We must encourage the government to assess the impacts of their cuts on all families, especially those that are just trying to stay together and to do the right thing by their children.

See the Family Rights Group website for further information.

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