Right to education for children of migrant workers

Nearly Legal flags up new guidance following two judgments in the European Court concerning the rights of the children of migrant workers to education. This is important because where the right exists the parent and primary carer of the child will be entitled to benefits and homelessness assistance that they might otherwise not have been able to access. This is not the sort of stuff you want to read for fun unless you really need to get to grips with the issues for the benefit of a particular client (and I don’t so I haven’t), but do be aware that these judgments may give clients in a vulnerable financial position access to financial and other assistance that a local authority / benefits agency might have refused them in the past.

Granny Solidarity

I initially didn’t pay much attention to the proposals made this week by Grandparents Plus that grannies* should receive financial recognition for their childcare of grandchildren. I had gone so far as to wonder why parents should not be able to receive working tax credit for childminding provided by extended family as well as registered childminders, but this seemed too susceptible to fraud to be ever likely to happen. But today I read an interesting article by Melanie Reid which I don’t entirely agree with but which provoked a little further thought on my part.

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Firstly she points out that if grandparents were to be treated as equivalent to childminders for the purposes of the childcare element of the working tax credit they would have to be demonstrably offering an equivalent service and yet the regulatory framework for even a poorly paid small business like childminding is monstrously complicated and not something that would be welcome, appropriate, practical or cost effective to apply to informal extended family arrangements. So that adds another layer of difficulty. 

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More substantively Melanie Reid opines that ‘what is depressing about this campaign is that in attempting to highlight the undoubted importance of grandparenting, it distorts what is precious about it. It reduces one of the closest of family bonds to a financial transaction, and tries to put a value on it. That’s very sad and ultimately destructive.’ I find this statement difficult. I agree at face value with what is said, I know my own Mum offers childcare because she wants to spend time with her beloved grandson as much as anything else and I wouldn’t want to sully that or insult her by offering to pay her – but the dynamics are complicated and like many working parents we are constantly anxious not to abuse the babysitting that is on offer. Like many grandparents these days my own parents still work and have little time for themselves. And the joy of being a grandparent is supposed to be that you can give them back when they grizzle or need a change.

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But actually on reading the Melanie Reid article and the quote above in particular, I was struck immediately by the echo of historic attempts by the feminist movement over the years to quantify the financial value of women’s domestic contributions to the household in the context of  the traditional nuclear family. Identifying the financial value of ‘women’s work’ was (is) an important step in the journey towards gender and pay equality and the highlighting and reduction of exploitation. In ancillary relief proceedings the contribution of these traditional roles (whether performed by husband or wife) is now regarded as equal in value to the financial contribution from paid employment, although as paid employment childcare, cleaning and other domestic type work remains poorly paid, a mark of the low value we as a society still place on these roles. The family courts recognise that somebody has to care for the kids and they should not be financially disadvantaged by their contribution to that role. In big money Schedule 1 cases allowances are sometimes awarded to mothers on the basis of the cost of a salaried nanny.

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I think there is probably a generation of grannies stuck holding the baby in order to facilitate their daughters’ career, ladies of a certain age who should now be living it up giving up perhaps more of their free time than they would like in order to make the family micro-economy viable. Could it be that the same women who burnt their bras decades ago are now co-erced into an undervalued caring role in order to support their liberated daughters? Women may now be able to achieve career success but it is very difficult to juggle family life with full time employment without a spouse or partner at home, expensive childcare provision, or – for many – the support of extended family.

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Thanks to our mothers and their own mothers it is no a longer controversial proposition that we should be able pursue a career and to continue doing so having started a family,whether male or female. But should our liberation from the burden of childcare be at the expense of our own mothers? Are we behaving like spoilt children by demanding that we should ‘have it all’ leaving mum and dad to pay? It’s very hard for grannies to say ‘no’ to requests and to reserve a little time for themselves. Instead of simply shifting the burden to other groups of women (poorly paid childminders, unpaid grandmothers) perhaps we should think more creatively about other family economic models that are less exploitative of women and which put less strain on family relations.

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I’m conscious I don’t really have anything concrete to put forward here, recognising as I do that the prospects of working tax credits being extended to cover informal family care are remote, but on a philosophical level I feel that we ought to be able to make this work more fairly for the family as a whole. Suggestions anyone? Perhaps rather than payment of WTC to the parent (which may not be passed onto the grandparent) there could be a version of carer’s allowance (payable at a lower / fixed rate than in the case of ‘professional’ childcare) paid directly to the grandparent in cases where the parent qualifies for tax credits?

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* I’ve talked about grannies not granddads in this post which I know will not be true in all cases but I think the majority of cases will be a grandmother caring either alone or with a grandfather rather than a grandfather caring alone.

Creative Accounting

Helpful suggestion from a District Judge the other day: when making a shared residence order couple it with a condition pursuant to s11(7) Children Act 1989 providing that the parent in receipt of Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits / Working Tax Credits pay to the other each week / month a sum representing the pro rata proportion of those benefits commensurate with the proportion of time the other parent will be spending with the other. This is a useful if artificial mechanism for apportioning the finances between parents who are each incurring the costs associated with having a child live with them in circumstances where the relevant authorities will only treat one parent as being entitled to benefit. Child Tax Credits can’t cope with shared residence, so these orders can help to realign the position to make the unworkable workable. Of course it would be easier for HMRC to agree to pay a lower rate of CTC to each parent but hey ho. Alternatively a consent pps order could be made.

When made under s11(7) such an order would be prima facie enforceable like any other s8 order, although who can guess how keen a court would be to enforce this kind of order in practice when parliament has deliberately taken most issues of child maintenance out of the hands of the court.