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Regional themes > Children and education Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Child support

Jonathan Bradshaw

Joseph Rowntree Foundation


SARPN acknowledges the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as a source of this document:
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Child support is a private transfer, which for many people is mediated by the government, and which mainly benefits lone parents. Children in lone parent families represented 42 per cent of all poor children in 2003/4. Therefore child support might play an important part in reducing child poverty. Although this was not an aspiration of the 1991 Child Support Act it was certainly the main aspiration of the Child Support, Pensionsand Social Security Act 2000. This paper is a review of the potential of child support in the strategy to end child poverty.

There are three ways by which child support might have an impact on child poverty.

First it might reduce child poverty directly and immediately by increasing the income of parents with care to such an extent that they are floated above the poverty threshold.

Second it might increase child poverty directly and immediately by making non- resident parents pay or pay more for the non-resident children and therefore reducing the income available to any children they have resident with them in their new family.

Third it might have an impact on child poverty in the long term by altering the behaviour of those involved – potential parents with care and potential non-resident parents. For women who are potential mothers/parents with care it might:

  • Increase or reduce (depending on how it is structured – see later) their incentives to be employed. An increase in employment rates will generally be associated with a reduction in child poverty.
  • Increase the incentives to leave partnerships, which would increase child poverty.
  • Increase or reduce their incentives to re-partner. It might also have an impact on the motivation of potential partners. An increase in repartnering of lone parents will all things being equal results in a reduction in child poverty.
However an effective child support system might increase births inside and outside marriage which would tend to increase child poverty.

For men who are potential fathers/non-resident parents an effective child support scheme might:

  • Reduce their tendency to engage in unprotected sex and father children both in and out of partnerships. This would reduce child poverty.
  • Reduce their capacity and willingness to partner or re-partner. This would probably increase child poverty. However some non-resident fathers might be encouraged to re-partner if it reduces their child support liability.
  • Reduce their incentives to work and work more which would increase child poverty.
However before we come to consider these issues we face two critical problems in evaluating the poverty reduction potential of child support.

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