British Social Attitudes: Government should force fathers to pay child maintenance

24 June 2013

NatCen Social Research has published new findings from the British Social Attitudes survey revealing that the British public believes the government should set and enforce child maintenance payments, and should require higher payments than are currently set by the CSA guidelines:

  • 60 per cent of people say that the law should set a minimum amount for child maintenance, rather than leaving it to parents to decide. Only 17 per cent disagree.
  • Only 20 per cent of the public agree that the law should never force fathers who are not living with their children (1) to pay child maintenance, compared with 59 per cent who disagree.
  • While parents who have lived apart from their children (who would themselves have been required to pay child maintenance) are a little less likely than others to favour government involvement, still more of them support the government setting (45 per cent) and enforcing child maintenance payments (46 per cent) than to oppose the government’s role (28 and 27 per cent respectively).

These findings come at a time when government is planning to reduce its involvement in child maintenance arrangements. Forthcoming policy changes will see parents encouraged to negotiate their own arrangements and the introduction of a fee to use the Child Support Agency.

The report, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found the public would require considerably higher levels of child maintenance than are set by the formula currently used by the Child Support Agency to calculate payments. This is particularly the case when the father has a higher income than the mother.

Co-author, Caroline Bryson, Bryson Purdon Social Research, said: “Our study shows that the current statutory child maintenance system falls far short of public expectations, and the planned changes will move child maintenance policy still further from public opinion about what the state’s role should be.”

Teresa Williams, Director of Social Research and Policy, Nuffield Foundation said: “Public opinion is particularly relevant in this instance both because such a large proportion of ‘the public’ are directly affected by child maintenance, and because the planned reforms to the child maintenance system will put more of the decision-making into their hands.”
The survey suggests the public believe that both mothers’ and fathers’ incomes should be taken into account when payments are calculated, and that fathers with higher incomes should pay a higher percentage of their income in child maintenance.

Co-author, Ira Ellman, Arizona State University, said: “The data show that the British public thinks non-resident parents with a good income should pay child maintenance at a level that would provide their children not just with basics, but with some of the amenities of a comfortable income.”


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Notes to editors

1) When families separate, most children live primarily with one parent, called the ‘parent with care’ (this is the mother in 97 per cent of cases). The other parent is called the ‘non-resident parent’ (usually the father). British law states that non-resident parents have a responsibility to maintain their children. In Britain, 2.5 million households are eligible to receive child maintenance on behalf of 4.5 million children, yet only one third of families who are potentially eligible to receive child maintenance actually receive anything, and even fewer receive maintenance payments regularly.

2) NatCen Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research ( NatCen interviewed 3,248 adults in Britain on their attitudes to child maintenance as part of the 2012 British Social Attitudes survey, with face-to-face interviews taking place between July and September, with a small number of interviews taking place in October and November. From 25 June the British Social Attitudes chapter on child maintenance will be available at:

Bryson Purdon Social Research LLP (BPSR) is an independent research partnership. It worked on this study alongside Arizona State University, the University of Lincoln and the University of Cambridge.