Cashing in: Single moms, many of whom are owed thousands in child support by deadbeat dads, say one of the main reasons to move to the U.K. is the free healthcare from the National Health Service. They are also entitled to child benefit money, free housing and get paid to return to school. *iStock photo

Cashing in: Single moms, many of whom are owed thousands in child support by deadbeat dads, say one of the main reasons to move to the U.K. is the free healthcare from the National Health Service. They are also entitled to child benefit money, free housing and get paid to return to school. *iStock photo

Poverty-stricken single moms are moving their families to the U.K. to take advantage of the country’s generous benefits system.

Many have several children with different fathers and are owed thousands of dollars in unpaid child maintenance. Now, an increasing number are emigrating in search of cheaper living conditions and better state support.

Under U.K. law, citizens of Britain’s overseas territories are entitled to the same welfare benefits as born Britons — once they take up residency.

One Bermudian single mother of four told us she was moving to England in the next few months with the expectation of receiving free rent, child benefit allowance, free healthcare on the NHS and the opportunity to go back to school.

Other women who have already made the move were unwilling to talk to us about their lives in England. But Sheelagh Cooper, of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said the emigration trend was increasing.

She has helped six families make the move already and is currently assisting four more in making applications for U.K. passports.

She said most moved for financial reasons, while some are keen to take their teenage children out of Bermuda’s worsening gang scene — a growing trend highlighted in the Bermuda Sun last week.

Fern Wade of the Hands of Love Ministry, which helps to feed and clothe poor families, said she knew of nine women who had moved their families to the U.K. in the past year.

Her advice to those thinking of making the move is to “go for it”.

Mrs. Cooper said she had offered similar advice to women in tough situations.

She added: “I’ve helped a few women get U.K. passports and encouraged them to go because it is easier to get assistance with housing. You can also get paid to go back to school.”

More than half of black female-headed households in Bermuda live below the poverty line, according to the 2000 census.

Mrs. Cooper is convinced that statistics from the 2010 census will show the problem has got worse.

She said the issue is connected to the difficulty of obtaining child support payments from delinquent fathers.

Chief Justice Richard Ground has highlighted the problem as a significant ongoing concern.

Attorney General Kim Wilson has moved to introduce new legislation — first reported in the Bermuda Sun in February — to clamp down on ‘deadbeat dads’.

But a mom of four told us she holds out no hope of getting maintenance payments from her babies’ fathers.

She said: “I’m a single mum — only one of my babies’ fathers pays child support. I’m owed a total of $70,000.

“They get taken to court but they say, ‘I’m not working, it’s the economy’, and they let them off every time.”

She said she is moving to the U.K. so she can claim housing allowance and child benefit and study at the same time. She added: “Taking advice from friends that have done it, they say the best thing to do is save some money before you go.

“The paperwork can take up to two months to sort out — you may have to pay for your own rent for the first few weeks.

Unemployed

“Once I have saved enough to get me and my children secure for the first few months, I’m leaving.”

Mrs. Cooper said the prospect of free healthcare was another major carrot for women thinking of moving to the U.K.

She said many were unemployed, looking after their children full-time or working in part-time jobs at “marginal businesses” that do not offer health insurance.

In the U.K., healthcare is free on the National Health Service — also available to Bermudians who make the U.K. their home.

Mrs. Cooper said: “The reason a lot of them are in that predicament is that they don’t have their GED. In Bermuda there is no way they can go back to college full-time and still get financial assistance for childcare and things like that.

“In England, depending on your circumstances, you get paid to go back to school, you are given a subsidy for your housing, you have free medical care and a wraparound state support system.

“If you look at the difference in violent crime between the two countries it is staggering, yet we still don’t seem to be able to recognize the connection between supporting families and a healthy home environment.

“It is very sad that some women are choosing to leave Bermuda but, for now, it is an option they are very fortunate to have.

“We’re very supportive of that and have given funds on several occasions to assist people in getting their U.K. passport and helping shepherd them through the process.” The Bermuda Sun asked Dianna Taylor, director of Financial Assistance, for details of how poor families could get help on the island without having to move abroad. She did not respond to our request.

Critics of Bermuda’s system say Financial Assistance operates on a case-by-case basis and there is no published formula for who qualifies for which benefits or how to claim them.

Residency

Kimberly Durrant, of the Bermuda Government’s London office, said anyone with a British passport is entitled to claim residency in the U.K. and will be entitled to the same benefits as any other British citizen.

Benefits vary depending on the area and local authority but any lone parent with a child under the age of 10 is eligible for Income Support, which pays about £60 per week.

Unlike JobSeekers Allowance, it does not require you to look for work. U.K. residents on Income Support are also automatically eligible for maximum housing and council tax benefits and any parent living in the country can claim weekly child benefit of £20.30 for the oldest child, plus £13.40 for every child after that.

The U.K. Government website, www.directgov.uk, has a comprehensive list of benefit entitlements, including a calculator to figure out what you qualify for.

According to the website, a single mum of four with savings of less than £16,000 would be entitled to roughly £343.82 per week.

The figure would vary according to rent and council tax costs, which vary throughout the U.K.

The Bermuda Government’s  London Office advises anyone considering moving to the UK to research accordingly.