"Child Support should be for Children" - A proposal for reform
by Barry Pearson
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A major early objective of the Child Support Agency was to reduce social security expenditure. Lone parents on Income Support (hence most of them) saw no financial advantage from the child support being paid, because the amount of Income Support paid was correspondingly reduced. Lone parents claiming Family Credit saw only partial advantage from the child support being paid.

This Treasury-saving objective has rightly been steadily eroded in the face of other more urgent objectives. The objective of reducing child poverty and the desire to help lone parents get into work removed the Treasury-saving feature from Working Families Tax Credit, and hence removed "state intrusion" from a large body of separated families. The CSA Reforms currently in progress will further erode the Treasury-saving objective by allowing lone parents on Income Support to benefit a little from the child support being paid.

The proposal described here is simply that the CSA should cease to be involved in Treasury-saving, but should focus on ensuring that child support liabilities fully benefit the children concerned via the lone parents. Since there would be no "state interest", there should then also be no "state compulsion". Use of the CSA should be confined to cases where one or both parents wanted it. It should become a service to parents, not an agent of the Treasury.

There are two main arguments against this: the cost to the Treasury (hence to taxpayers); and the loss of an incentive for a lone parent to get into work and so cease claiming Income Support. Both of these are addressed by this proposal in other ways.

The incentive to work is anyway being eroded by the CSA Reforms. Most Income Support cases will not yield a Treasury-saving (although they will still be compulsory, and operated at taxpayer's expense!) Only a relatively small proportion of cases will show a significant financial incentive to get to work. Furthermore, it is wrong to have the same incentive for a lone parent with a youngest child of 2 and a lone parent with a youngest child of 12. So the proposal here is that Income Support should not be available once the youngest child is (say) 11. At this point, "New Deal" and Job Seeker's Allowance are the appropriate mechanisms. This should help to address the Treasury's concerns about expenditure on lone parents.

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Page last updated: 13 October, 2002 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002