A Fair Shared-Care Formula for Child Support
by Barry Pearson
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2 Commentary on Chapter Seven of the CSA White Paper

2.1 Justification for criticising the White Paper

The objectives of the White Paper are accepted. Both parents must satisfy their financial responsibilities to their children, and must not leave the children to be brought up in poverty or hand the whole task to the taxpayer. The system that administers this must be efficient and effective,

Criticism here of the White Paper is not criticism of these objectives. It is criticism of the White Paper's failure to address these objectives fairly, or at all.

The purpose of this section is to show by commentary that the White Paper fails to identify a sensible, rational, fair shared-care formula. (All the criticisms here are catered for by the fair shared-care formula described earlier).

This section deals first with the general formula for shared-care, for example where the caring proportions are perhaps 2 nights to 5 nights per week. In some cases, the White Paper's own statements contradict its proposals.

Then it deals with the special case of exactly equal shared-care. Here the White Paper defies rational analysis, but an attempt is made.

All of the quotes from the White Paper are from Chapter Seven: "Contact and shared care". Quotes and section numbers are shown thus:

"Quote" [nn]

(Examples are sometimes given in which a parent has £233 net income per week. This is simply a convenient quantity where the assessment for one child is £35 per week, or £5 per day).

2.2 Summary of the issues

1. With a sensible formula, in all cases it ought to be possible to match the behaviour of the formula with the need to pay for the children.
  Instead, one issue is that while the White Paper makes some sensible statements about what it is trying to do, it often follows these with non-sequiturs. If those sensible statements were followed to their logical conclusion they would actually lead to policies which were different, even opposite, to those proposed.
  One example out of many: the White Paper says "the cost of keeping a child is not necessarily greatly reduced if the child spends several nights away from home". In other words the greatest part of the cost is caring at all, then the cost varies by a smaller amount. So how can it justify reducing the NRP's assessment by just one-seventh for the first night of care? Or if the NRP is on benefits, by restoring the NRP to benefit level, without any thought of how an NRP on benefits can afford to care for children even for one night per week without extra help?
2. When a parent cares directly for a child, there are two separate consequences: that parent has extra costs; and the other parent has fewer costs. Both must be taken into account, but this proposal doesn't do that. All it is really doing is recognising the reduced cost to the PWC because someone else has the child for a time. It doesn't recognise the increased cost to the NRP, which neither the PWC nor the taxpayer help with. (The NRP is truly abandoned while caring for the children).
Obviously, the White Paper only reached the above conclusions by considering just the cost to the PWC and not to the NRP.
3. Another issue is that the White Paper is rightly keen to reduce benefit spend, but then doesn't follow through by identifying who, if anyone, is actually on benefits. It assumes that the PWC is on benefits and the NRP is earning, and tries to reduce benefit spend for that case.
  But neither of these assumption is generally true, and this misses other opportunities for benefit saving while introducing a distortion which proves massively unfair where one or both of these assumptions are untrue.
4. Finally, the White Paper tends to look backwards at the nature of post-separation families up to now, instead of looking forward to the nature in (say) the 10 years after the new scheme is implemented. It also puts too much emphasis on the condition immediately after separation, and not enough on how that family changes months or years later.

The target should be "two parents earning and sharing care", with a CSA formula to match, not "mother on benefits, absent father". The latter will still occur, but is catered for satisfactorily anyway with a fair shared-care formula.

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Page last updated: 13 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002