David Cameron's comments in the Sunday Telegraph that "runaway dads" should be stigmatised in the same way as drink-drivers, has been criticised by single parent charities who say he should focus instead on addressing the barriers which prevent the involvement of fathers.
The charities are concerned that his comments risk casting all separated fathers as irresponsible, when many wish to see their children but are prevented from doing so.
Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, said, "Mr Cameron appears to have overlooked the complexity of separated families. Very few fathers choose deliberately to walk away from their children, and it is damaging in the extreme to suggest that this is the common experience. Rather than simply wringing his hands about the ‘bogeyman' of the absent father, Mr Cameron would be well advised to examine how his government can ensure that the importance of fatherhood is better reflected in law, rather than simply in rhetoric."
Mr Sanderson continued, "Mr Cameron gives the impression in his article that he does not believe the government can do anything to ensure that fathers are involved in children's lives following separation. If he genuinely wishes for fathers to be more involved in children's lives, he needs to ensure that the law reflects the importance and status of fathers in families. There is plenty that Mr Cameron could do in this regard. This could include requiring both parents to sign their child's birth certificate, or ensuring that local services such as schools and doctors treat both parents equally and provide them with the same information on their children, regardless of which parent lives with the child."
Single parent charities point out that while David Cameron criticises absent fathers, the government is due to increase fees for single parents who make child maintenance payments. From 2012 single parents who want to use the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will have to pay an upfront application fee of up to £100 plus an extra ongoing charge of between 7% and 12% of the money paid for children where payments are collected and enforced by CMEC.
Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: "David Cameron is right that single mums - and indeed single dads - do a heroic job. But those same parents are about to have government support ripped away from them if they need help securing child maintenance payments from their child's other parent. If government proposals go ahead, single parents will have to pay a fee and ongoing charges for the Child Support Agency to collect money from "runaway dads" who refuse to pay voluntarily.
"If the prime minister really wants to support heroic single parents, he must withdraw these damaging proposals which would limit access to the CSA."