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The UK needs to recognise the costs and benefits of ‘own household fathers’

Our social security and child maintenance systems should acknowledge that many fathers not living with their child full-time, incur costs through staying involved as hands-on parents

Photo of a man and young girl feeding a horse

We are delighted to share an important piece of research that spells out, for the first time, a clear failing of the UK’s social security and child maintenance systems: the assumption that all child-related costs fall on the ‘primary carer’ (usually mother) in families where parents live in separate households.


The study, led by Katherine Hill at Loughborough University, funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and published earlier this month, estimates that where a child stays regularly with the ‘non-resident’ parent (usually the father – we call such men ‘own household fathers’), the minimum cost for him to meet their needs is up to £127 per week.


This includes costs relating to providing the child with a comfortable home, meeting their day-to-day needs, activities and spending time together, gifts and celebrations and transport. Almost all these costs are additional to those borne by the other parent.

As things stand, this very common model of post-separation co-parenting is entirely unsupported by our social security systems – with two possible results in families, especially where finances are tight:


1. Children moving between households not having their needs adequately met

2. Children being prevented from having substantial contact with their ‘other’ parent - thus limiting the extent to which fathers (in most cases) can share responsibility for their child’s upbringing.

Both of these likely consequences should be abhorrent in a society where ‘lone parents’ make up 22.5% of all families with children (Reference 1) – and where, in 2020, 49% of children living in such families were in relative poverty after housing costs, compared with 25% of children living in married or cohabiting families (Reference 2).


The researchers make several recommendations for how Universal Credit should recognise these extra costs. They also call for a greater focus on this neglected issue and group of parents in qualitative research, in the collection of data and in public policy.


We highly recommend this piece of work, which acts as a much-needed companion to our own work, funded by Nuffield Foundation, highlighting the lack of attention paid to ‘own household fathers’ in research, policy and practice.


As we said in our 2018 report:

"Policy devised on the back of partial information, particularly when the ‘missing’ fathers are vulnerable (for example young, poor, ‘new arrivals’, suffering from health/mental health deficits or a combination of the above) may fail to address key issues, and to meet parents’ and children’s needs.
"The dichotomous classification of fathers as either ‘resident’ or ‘non-resident’ masks a wide range of care-and-contact patterns: for example no-contact, daytime care, minority overnight care (one or two nights a week), equal overnight care, majority overnight care, living part-time in the child’s household, and temporary longer-term non-residence with the child.
"Identifying and studying the full range of fathers and father-figures in, and attached to, modern families could provide nationally representative data about the men’s health, wellbeing, employment, caretaking, social attitudes and finances, and their impacts on children and mothers, so usefully informing both policy and practice.”

We salute the authors of this report for their focus on exploring the challenges faced by ‘own household fathers’, and we look forward to developing further work in this area.


We invite researchers and relevant policy-focused organisations interested in future collaborations to get in touch. Please email our Head of Research Adrienne Burgess AdrienneBurgess@fatherhoodinstitute.org.


References
  1. Burgess, A. & Goldman, R. (2023). The kids are alright: Adolescents and their fathers in the UK – research review. Contemporary Fathers in the UK series. London: Fatherhood Institute: page 22.

  2. Figures cited by The Children’s Commissioner, September 2022


 


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