Parliament - Social Security Select Committee

Examination of Witnesses - Wednesday 15 September 1999

Mr Jim Parton, Ms Karen Randall and Mr Barry Pearson (Questions 303 - 319)

This is in Hansard here, along with accompanying material


Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Ladies and gentlemen, can I reconvene the session. We welcome Families Need Fathers and welcome back Jim Parton who has given evidence to the Committee in other circumstances before and he is joined by Ms Karen Randall and Mr Barry Pearson. Jim, I think the best thing we could do is start with a short opening statement from you if you would not mind doing that.

Mr Parton

First of all, I should introduce my colleagues. We have here a father, a mother and stepmother, and a taxpayer. I have to say that Barry is not a father.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Do you fight amongst yourselves?

Mr Parton

What we hope to prove is that it is possible not to fight over these things and we are possibly not all that far from a CSA which is workable provided of course you hoist on board what we have put in our submission of which Karen was the author and Barry did the numbers and mathematical modelling. I should say that Barry is a business analyst at a very well-known computer company with a specialism in welfare reform so he does know what he is talking about.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

We might speak to him later in the car park about the CSA's IT system.

Mr Parton

As I was saying, we do not think that the CSA is doomed, which is a markedly different position from the one we had perhaps a year or two ago. In around 75 per cent of cases they are not shared parenting cases and the White Paper reforms it would seem to us work for cases where there is no shared parenting element. So, if you like, we are conceding what the White Paper is saying although there is obviously some detail. The other 25 per cent of cases are shared parenting. We very much welcome the White Paper's new definition which is 52 nights to be regarded as a shared parenting arrangement rather than 104. We very much welcome that. Now I am afraid the failure to take into account at all the parent with care's income leads to all sorts of problems. That, as I say, is 25 per cent of the CSA's caseload. We think it is a bigger problem than that because a large number of private cases are also shared care parenting cases and we think that the new CSA scheme should encompass them as well or at least be there as a guideline should people want to use it. We believe it should be made to work for them as well. That is all I have to say by way of introduction. On the details you are probably going to hear less from me than from Karen and from Barry.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Do you feel as an organisation that you have had proper and adequate access to ministers and officials in the consultation process?

Mr Parton

Yes.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Are you confident that as the regulations get produced as a result of the primary legislation once it is enacted (whenever that may be) that you will get access to ministers and officials during that process also?

Mr Parton

Yes. I have to say that the stakeholders meetings have been a good exercise. Karen attends those and we have been given all the information that we need.

Ms Randall

Our concerns would be around the ones expressed earlier that it is the detail of this that needs to be scrutinised and we are anxious to know that scrutiny does take place. We think that is very important. A lot of what is wrong with the current legislation is in the detail.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

In fact, it has just been pointed out to me since I made the statement earlier that the Social Security Advisory Committee, I did not know fully appreciate this, I have to confess my ignorance, do not actually have the remit to cover child support regulations and statutory instruments. I see from the look on your face, Jim, that you did not know that either.

Mr Parton

No, I did not.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Which consoles me slightly. That is a real problem. If we do not have access to the expertise that the Social Security Advisory Committee have built up on statutory instruments and other parts of social security law and it is not available to us in child support measures that is an added reason to be concerned about that issue. You are sounding as if the situation is a lot better than it was, that the anger that we have seen demonstrated in past years within families who have been subjected to some of the worse excesses, if you like to put it pejoratively, of the existing CSA has abated slightly. Why is that the case do you think?

Mr Parton

I do not accept that. The anger is still there and the anger is authentic. What we are attempting to do is be constructive about the future of the CSA. Obviously we would be beating our heads against a brick wall suggesting it is going to be abolished. It is not going to be abolished so we are trying to guide you to introduce a system that will be broadly acceptable to fathers and to mothers.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Do you think there are people out there who, apart from those who are trying to avoid liabilities, that are struggling to pay the demands that are placed on them and would continue to find that difficult even if the administrative system were improved?

Mr Parton

Very much so, yes.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Have you got any evidence of that?

Ms Randall

We have evidence in qualitative terms of members who come to us who are struggling to make their payments not because they do not want to but because they cannot.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

You have got documented cases of that where you believe that is true and not just an excuse?

Ms Randall

We believe those are true, yes, that there is genuine hardship.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

But you think that if some of the suggestions that you are making here, and they are robustly argued, were to be adopted then you think that the worse excesses could be dealt with and make the system more acceptable?

Ms Randall

Broadly, as Jim suggested, we think the proposals that have been put forward here are simple. They have the benefit of being simple and because they are simple assessments can be made quickly. It is transparent system and for 75 per cent of cases where there is no shared care involved we think (with a few reservations) that is a workable system. We accept the argument, for example, that parent with care income does not need to be looked at in cases where there is no shared care. We accept the argument that 15 per cent for one child represents half of what it costs for one child and therefore the parent with care is already paying her half when she is looking after the child 100 per cent of the time. Our problems begin in cases where there is shared care which is currently 25 per cent of the case load and we do expect that to increase when private cases are brought into the Child Support Agency which they inevitably will be. We expect that the parent with care income will become a factor. In shared care cases we have to lose the terms "parent with care" and "non-resident parent" to make sense of how the formula will actually work. Where a mother looks after a child for four nights a week and the father has the child for three nights a week they are both at times the parent with care and the non-resident parent. So the mother is parent with care four nights a week and non-resident parent for the three nights a week the child is with the father. I hope that you looked at some of our case studies where it is represented diagrammatically. What happens is that even in those cases money is all flowing in one direction, normally it is only flowing from the father to the mother, even in shared care cases. So a shared care child receives no support from the state in terms of Child Benefit or from the other parent when they are being cared for by the father. That sets up a situation where we are likely to see children being affected by child poverty issues when they are with their non-resident parent. Also it introduces the rather perverse outcome that it is always going to be cheaper for fathers to abandon their children and never to see them than it is for them to care for their children. When they care for their children they will actually be paying more in every single case where the parent with care income is not taken into account.

Mr Parton

I think that is a point we would like to emphasise. The responsible father, if he wants to pay his child support, wants to see his children and give that emotional support which everybody agrees is very important, is penalised under the proposals. We cannot see that is desirable, it will create a great deal of angst.

Mr Pond

I want to stay with the shared care issue. You said that 25 per cent of the caseload would come into that definition, presumably on the new definition of 52?

Mr Parton

It may be more under the new definition.

Ms Randall

Fifty two under the old definition but the Child Support Agency at the moment are not able to record one night of shared care, they only start recording it where it is more than two nights of shared care. So they actually do not know what the numbers are between zero and two nights of shared care. We expect it to be higher than that but we are not sure how much higher.

Mr Pond

So 25 per cent of the caseload currently is where the non-resident parent has the child for at least two nights a week and we do not have a break down about nights beyond that, we just know that it is two or more, is that right?

Ms Randall

I do not know if there is a break down.

Mr Pearson

I have not seen one.

Mr Pond

In your proposals in the submission you treat those cases very much symmetrically. You are arguing that if you take account of 15 per cent of the non-resident parent's income you should also take account of 15 per cent or whatever the percentage, depending on the number of children, of the parent with care's income. There is also an issue about where the child benefit comes. I am sure the case will be put that life is not symmetrical in that way and that taking a simple percentage of 25 per cent for two or more is not necessarily a reflection of the balance between parents in terms of the responsibilities that they have to carry. How would you respond to that point?

Ms Randall

When we tried to set out for you as simply as we could diagrammatically how it might work. We have allocated costs to each parent per night. We have argued that there is a fixed cost involved in bringing up a child so that the first night of care will carry a higher cost than each subsequent night. So the first night will include, for example, housing costs, that is a fixed cost. Subsequent nights will cover food and that will be a lesser cost and we have apportioned it that way. For where there is even one night of shared care there is clearly a big leap in the spend on the child by the non-resident parent and that will cover the fixed cost and subsequent nights cost less. What we are not arguing is that children do not cost much money, we are saying that in shared care arrangements they do cost money and they cost more money. The reason they cost more money is because there are duplicated costs and there are these fixed costs. We are acknowledging that children cost money, we are not trying to say that they do not. What we are trying to say is that they cost money for both parents, not just for one parent. The caring role of the father has been ignored in the way that has been worked out under these proposals.

Mr Pond

The National Council for One Parent Families this morning was actually opposed to the reduction in maintenance assessment for shared care because they made the point that in very many cases the parent with care is on a very low income, very often on income support levels of income, and therefore to have any reduction in the payment to the parent with care, even if that is offset by the fact that there is some additional expenditure by the non-resident parent, pushes the parent with care below the poverty line and therefore pushes the child below the poverty line. How do you respond to that?

Ms Randall

Although it would have an impact it would not reduce their benefit, they would be entitled to the same amount of benefits, it would not take them below the benefit level.

Mr Pond

That is why I said income support levels of income.

Ms Randall

They remain steady. It also doesn't affect the disregard and they receive the £10 disregard amount. Our argument is that the money is for child support, it has to follow the child. When a child is not with that parent it is right that the money follows the child into the household which the child is in. That could also be a low income family. If that is a non-resident parent on benefit that will directly benefit the child in that household and not create another set of child poverty somewhere else where it is being alleviated in one place and created in another. All we are saying is that we accept the percentage system, we accept the simplification, that has to happen, we are just saying apply it equally in shared care cases so that it is transparent. We have heard quite a lot about will the system be accepted, will compliance increase. The system will be accepted and compliance will increase if it is seen to be fair. I think the shared care proposals are so discriminatory that they are a major obstacle to it being accepted.

Mr Pond

The shared care proposals are based very much on overnight care and there is a feeling that to take day time care into the equation would be too complex. Does your organisation have a view on that?

Ms Randall

We did discuss this with Baroness Hollis when we were consulting around that. We have accepted the argument that it is simpler to keep it as it is and to base it on nights.

Mr Parton

In the real world we concede that. It is not something we feel comfortable conceding but we are trying to get a system, as I say, which is broadly acceptable and which will work. We would now like to move on from this whole CSA thing, it is not what Families Need Fathers was set up for, we were set up for people to actually see their children more, to campaign for that and things like contact orders in the courts not being worth the paper they are written on.

Mr Pond

Much of the anxiety expressed around shared care from other witnesses has been the desire to disentangle the maintenance payments from issues of contact, access, care, etc. Your proposals would link them very closely, would they not? Is there not a danger that might actually increase the stress between parents?

Mr Parton

I must say I do not think it does link them any more closely, it is just working on the principles that are there already, we are just applying the percentage rate equally between both parents. I do not think it is linking contact with the money but what it is doing is recognising that children do cost money, we concede that is what this is about perhaps, but they cost money equally to both parents when they are caring for the children and that has to be recognised.

Mr Pond

One final question linked to that. Mr Farquarson in his evidence said that they have a slight anxiety, they favour the shared care proposals in the White Paper but they have an anxiety that this might encourage parents with care to resist extra sharing of care because they lose money. That obviously runs counter to your organisation's objectives. Is that a risk you are willing to take, that it would be increased from your proposals?

Mr Pearson

First of all, I do not belong to Families Need Fathers, I am an independent view here. Perhaps I only represent taxpayers, I do not know. We have done some work based on this particular formula for a fairer shared care proposal. What happens when we look at the details is that, in fact, as the non-resident parent takes over more and more care of the child and the formula reduces, with this particular approach if the original 15 per cent was a good number in the first place then the PWC does not get worse off by losing the care of the child, the amount of money that the child support is reduced by matches the reduction in the direct spend of the PWC. As Karen said, it is in the detail and that is why we tried these diagrams here because otherwise you are going to glaze over with the mathematical formulae. When we look at it what we find is that if the 15 per cent is the right amount then it actually becomes cost neutral whether a parent cares or pays someone else to care. If the 15 per cent is perhaps too low and the children actually cost more than the 15 per cent then, in fact, the PWC becomes better off when the NRP takes the child away.

Mr Pond

Except for the fixed cost element. That is true of the variable cost but the fixed cost element, which could be considerable, obviously they will not be saving that.

Ms Randall

That is the same for both of course. If the mother has a child for four nights a week, the bedroom is sitting empty for three nights and if the father has the child for three nights a week, the bedroom is sitting empty for four nights. The fixed costs are the same for both and do not reduce by that amount.

Mr Pond

Do you see what I am saying about your calculations, that if, say, a third of the total costs of the child are fixed, and I have no idea if that is true, but let's say it is a third of that, then in fact the savings which are being made by the child spending more time with the other parent are less than the losses from the reduction in maintenance payments?

Ms Randall

I think it is not just about saving money, but it is about the money actually following the child and being seen to follow the child. The alternative is that if we do not have a fair shared care formula, it will be financially advantageous for fathers to abandon their children and not maintain contact with them. We cannot see that that is in the interests of children, but we see that shared parenting is in the interests of children and we see that the child support proposals in the White Paper are probably the single largest social policy issue that will impact on shared parenting and we are trying to look to the future. Shared parenting is actually increasing and will continue to increase and I think we need to address this now, not look back in five years' time and say, "Whoops! We got it a bit wrong", but there were not that many shared cases at the time and so had said, "Let's try and address it later".

Mr Pond

I am not arguing with you about the fair division of costs or the proposal to encourage shared parenting. I am just wanting to be clear that your proposals would not act as a barrier to that move towards extra shared parenting because the parent with care would have the incentive perhaps to resist that.

Ms Randall

I think the other answer is that that is a matter for the courts and where contact has been ordered and it has been denied, that is dealt with by the courts at the moment and should continue to be dealt with by the courts.

Mr Pearson

I feel myself that one of the problems that has occurred with the Child Support Agency is that it appeared to have too many objectives and it was not just about child support, but it was also about repaying the Treasury for benefits and things like that. It appeared to have too many objectives which conflicted with one another and caused a lot of anger. A new child support system, if it focuses on child support and the many child needs, it may stand a chance of succeeding. What concerns me is if it turns into a system to impose a bribe on the PWC to let the NRP have access to the children or something like that. It is starting to get too many objectives and it will fail to succeed on any of those objectives.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Can I turn now to the question of sanctions. Do you have any views about sanctions, people having their passports and their driving licences and indeed their pocket money seized? Do you have a view about that?

Mr Parton

If the Government willy-nilly ploughs ahead with the proposals, there is no question that prison does work. It is used often in the family courts, far more often probably than any of you realise. I can think of several of our members who have been in contempt of court over an antique chest of drawers, as one guy I know, and there was another one who attempted to see his children by standing on their route to school and waving to them, which was one reason why he was sentenced, and he was sent down for six months, and another one broke an order by sending a letter and he was sent down for eleven months, so these sanctions exist and I think that they unquestionably work, but they are draconian and I do not think there is any place for prison in families, or at least only very rarely and there does not seem to be, for example, a community service option. If you do plough ahead with the White Paper as proposed, then you probably could make it work by carrying out the threat to put people in prison and take away their driving licences. I have to say that I thought that when the White Paper was announced, "the hanging is too good" sort of rhetoric was utterly lamentable, very regrettable I think and the dad-bashing here has to end.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Do you have any figures as to how many people have actually gone to prison and actually served sentences?

Mr Parton

No, I have not.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

You seem to be suggesting that it was a direct result of some child maintenance questions which have gone to court because of-

Mr Parton

It can be chattels and it can be contact. There is a readiness in the family courts to use the final sanction of prison on fathers. There is not the same readiness for mothers, but actually I think it is wrong for both fathers and mothers and I think we should be getting away from that if we are a compassionate society. To me, there is nothing I can see positive about that.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

But prison cares for families!

Mr Parton

You can imagine that a number of our members are in prison and we have people writing to us from prison saying, "I want to see my little Johnny. What can I do about it?", so it is a serious issue.

Ms Randall

Yes, any system will need sanctions. The system has them at the moment. There are quite wide-ranging sanctions, including the option of prison at the moment, as we heard from Nicholas Mostyn. It is not used very much. I think the point is to get a system which is fair, which would, therefore, be acceptable and which, therefore, would be complied with. Sanctions are a later resort and they should not be the first resort, but yes, any system will need sanctions to back it up and we accept that.

Mr Pearson

I have got a comment and that is that if the formula was clearly a fair one as far as the general public is concerned, there might be a chance that not paying your child support would become socially unacceptable, like drink-driving or something like that. While there is this focused resentment because there are clear faults in the formula and as a result of that there is always news that says, "Look, there is something wrong here. Perhaps the Government has got to change it", then it will never become socially unacceptable not to obey this Agency. That is just a view I have got, although I have no evidence to back that up.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Do I understand you to mean that if you reduce the 15/20/25 to 7/10/12, it would get to a level where people could not with any degree of credibility say that they were not paying it?

Mr Parton

We are not arguing about the percentage.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

You are not?

Mr Parton

No.

Ms Randall

Our evidence is centred almost entirely around the shared care formula, that that has to be got right, that we cannot have an outcome that actually penalises fathers who care most for their children by making them pay more to do that and actually rewarding them for abandoning their children and never seeing them.

Mr Parton

You will see this very clearly in our case study 4,[13] I think.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Indeed some of the submission is very detailed, but very, very useful and we will be able to draw on that.

Mr Parton

You can see exactly why parents might even collude to defraud the CSA.

Mr Pearson

There is an example here where when the non-resident parent decides, "I have had enough. I am not going to look after my children because we are not getting enough money in", at that point the non-resident parent becomes £43 a week better off and the taxpayer becomes £36.95 worse off, so the taxpayer in that particular case, because it involves child care credits and so on, in effect is bribing the non-resident parent not to care for the children.

Mr Parton

To abandon his responsibilities.

Mr Pearson

It is astonishing the way these systems interact that push things the wrong way.

Mr Leigh

I think my aim is like yours; I would like to see a system which provides a clear financial advantage to fathers who want to share the care of their children and I am with you on that. I thought that the Government's plans as outlined were making progress towards that, and inadequate progress I am sure you would agree, but some progress. Now, as I understand it, you are saying that the one-seventh deduction per night for shared care is necessary because-and, by the way, this constant referring to "PWC" and "NRP", we understand it, but I am not sure that it is entirely helpful in getting your message across because acronyms never are-but the parent with care does not have the-

Mr Parton

We are trying to be PC.

Mr Leigh

Well, please do not be PC, especially with me! In addition, however, the PWC, just to use your language, must be assessed at 15 per cent of income contributing costs to the NRP. I think I understand all that. It would be lovely if the Government would agree to that. The trouble is presumably they will not because the Government will say that the parent with care simply cannot afford these sorts of deductions. Will the Government not say that?

Mr Pearson

The answer is that simply because of the way the formula works what we are saying is that while the PWC or the mother, shall we say mother?

Mr Leigh

Let us say mother.

Mr Pearson

Seven per cent of the time I think it is the father but let us say mother. That person would be responsible, according to the 15/20/25 rule, for the time that the mother is the absent parent. If the mother is on benefits that is zero. If the mother is on very low income, say £100, then it would not even be a proportion of £5 a week, it disappears. It just does not cut in as a significant number until the parent with care starts to earn a significant amount of money. It might do if you start taking the parent with care's low income, add the Working Families Tax Credit and so on, but it just does not cut in until the parent with care earns a significant amount of money and that is when it starts to have an effect. Once you get to an equal earning point and an equal sharing point there is no net liability either way unlike the White Paper proposal where if the parent with care and the non-resident parent, so-called for some reason, shared care equally the one not claiming child benefit ends up paying nearly half the amount that he would pay if he never saw the child for some bizarre reason.

Mr Leigh

You are an expert in all this, it is very easy for you to understand it but for us mere mortals who are not tax experts it is a tiny bit confusing. If your idea is such a good one, and from what you tell us it is, what has been the Government's response to it so far?

Ms Randall

We have not put it to the Government. We put a different proposal to them initially and that was to reduce it by two-sevenths for each night of shared care and they rejected that. We have now gone back and we have tried to define a fairer system. We think this is a fairer system because it takes the Government's own principle, which is that the non-resident parent should contribute 15 per cent of their net income, and it just applies that to both parents in shared care cases. So it is taking their figure and applying it equally to both parents but only in shared care cases. We are talking about 25 per cent of cases at the moment. It is also fairer than what we originally proposed which was a two-sevenths reduction because the two-sevenths reduction ignored the fact that women tend to earn 20 per cent less than men. This actually acknowledges the fact that women tend to earn 20 per cent less than men and they will, therefore, be assessed at that. Fifteen per cent of their income will be of their actual income and this recognises that fact. We do think this is a fairer system. We have not had the Government's response to it but we very much hope that they will look at it.

Mr Leigh

If we were to introduce your system you are arguing that there would not be any increased costs to the taxpayer, that there would be a clear incentive to the father to spend more time with his children and in most cases the mother would not be any worse off. Is that what you are saying?

Ms Randall

Yes.

Mr Pearson

There are cases where it is an extra benefit saving and that is the case where the parent with care earns a significant amount and it is the non-resident parent on benefits, in which case there is actually a flow the other way, well off parents with care will not get as much and will end up not as well off under this scheme.

Mr Leigh

Under your scheme?

Mr Pearson

Under this scheme. They will not get all this money moving towards them, they will have to take some extra financial responsibility themselves.

Mr Leigh

How much better off must you be? I am starting to get worried about my own voters now.

Mr Pearson

I do not know who your voters are.

Mr Parton

Wealthy divorce"s.

Ms Randall

For example, on our case study number three[14] where the parent with care has a net income of £300 and the non-resident parent has no income at all and she has four nights of shared care and he only has three, on the Government's system she would spend from her own income £30.60 out of £300 and from zero income, he is on benefit, he would be left with £31.40 out of his Jobseeker's Allowance to look after his child for three nights a week in shared care. If we applied our system to that his retained income would go up to £41.84 and her retained income would come down to £250 instead of £270. It is not as punitive on the parent with care as one might think, it actually still tips the balance in their favour.

Mr Leigh

Thank you.

Mr Pearson

I would like to make another point here and that is this is not a scheme that has never been tried around the world, it is actually the shared care formula that operates in several countries in the world.

Mr Leigh

Which countries?

Mr Pearson

Australia has a similar scheme, Norway does, I am not sure about Sweden, and New Zealand does. There are at least 14 states, there may be more, in the United States that operate a similar symmetrical formula.

Dr Naysmith

Still on second families, your section 7, "First Children First",[15] you make it clear that you disapprove of the proposal that was in the White Paper but not in the Green Paper to do with percentage rates for a first family's children versus the second family's children. Why do you think it changes between the Green Paper and the White Paper?

Ms Randall

The Green Paper was a consultative paper so presumably the Government took note of what was said to them about that and came down in favour of the proposal that they have come up with now. They have clearly decided to say that first children will be slightly more favoured than children in the second family. I think our only objection to that is when we are talking about child support we think that all children of all families should be treated equally as a moral principle. We also think that the original proposal the Government made was more transparent. If you have two children in one family, the first family, you will pay 20 per cent of your net income and if you have one in the first and one in the second then it seems logical to us that you split that 20 per cent and have ten in each. What the Government has gone for in that situation is you would pay 12.75. It is not quite as transparent for people to work out for themselves.

Dr Naysmith

From what has been said this afternoon it sounds as if you have got a lot more access to ministers than some of us around the table. Do you think that this change was for moral reasons or for social policy reasons?

Ms Randall

I would be guessing but I think perhaps lobbying was perhaps stronger on the other side. I am guessing, I am not sure.

Dr Naysmith

Who do you know who was lobbying for this, that second family children should be better treated than first family?

Ms Randall

It is not that they should be better treated-

Dr Naysmith

Financially.

Ms Randall

I think perhaps lobbying from single parent groups that first families will be losing out under the other proposal, and in fact that was stated quite explicitly in the White Paper, the Government took that on board.

Mr Pond

Just a quick question on your scheme of shared care, your 15/20/25 per cent for the parent with care. Would that include parents with care on income support?

Ms Randall

No.

Mr Pond

How would you deal with those, the symmetry would break down?

Ms Randall

It applies the same criteria to the parent with care when she is the non-resident parent as it would to the non-resident parent who never looked after the children at all. At the moment there is the plan for a minimum £5 deduction but that is exempted for cases of shared care. So for a parent with care on income support and a non-resident parent on income support, neither would have that minimum £5 deduction made because the acknowledgement is that they are sharing the care of the child. Of course the non-resident parent is already at a disadvantage because, unlike the parent with care, he only gets the single person's allowance whereas the parent with care on income support will get the additional allowances, housing benefit, child benefit, on top of it, so she is already in an advantageous position.

Ms Buck

Forgive me if this is in the details. Could you just run through for me for a minute what your definitions are of "fixed costs" for this purpose? What are your assumptions?

Mr Pearson

When I constructed these I did not specifically have a definition of fixed costs, I simply took the White Paper statement that there were fixed costs and then said "okay, I will accept that, now let us apply it systematically to both parents". These are the consequences of that, so all I was really doing was just accepting the statement in the White Paper that there are these fixed costs and then applying them systematically.

Ms Buck

I am not unsympathetic to some of the points that have been made about the need for absent fathers to be given assistance to look after the children, but what I have found over the years, not just in CSA cases, but over the years most tiresome is listening to the non-resident parents saying, "I give him pocket money and I buy the trainers", and I think we have got to unpick this issue of fixed costs and non-fixed costs a bit. The housing cost clearly is a fixed cost, as is the Weetabix and so forth which are just day-to-day costs, but the issue of child care in particular is so often ignored in that calculation and the issue of who buys the clothes and shoes which phenomenally actually falls disproportionately on the parent with care. I just want to make sure that in making a case which has merits to it in principle, we do make sure that it is an honest case which really does recognise that the fixed costs are not just about the housing component and which is actually reflecting the true reality of the family situation between two households.

Ms Randall

And I think that is a concern of the National Council for One Parent Families as well as it has been expressed to us and yes, that is a real concern. I think what we would also point out is that fathers often have contact at the weekends and weekend contact carries with it also certain costs. There are the costs of entertaining the children, taking them out. They do not just sit at home in front of the television for the weekend. Therefore, there are different costs. I am not saying that they are more, but there are different costs there, so whilst they might not be buying the school uniform, they might be doing other things and taking the children to clubs over the weekend, which is quite common, and I think that needs to be looked at as well. The fixed costs, we have not broken them down into what they might also pay, but we have just accepted the costs in the White Paper, as Barry has said.

Mr Archy Kirkwood (Chairman)

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. That was extremely useful and thank you for your attendance.

Page last updated: 12 March, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003