Weblog archive for October 2005

13th October 2005

How will the "new mediation service" work?

Only a few clues emerged from the Labour Party Conference:

"Work and pensions secretary David Blunkett ... took decisive steps to start a root-and-branch reform of the beleaguered Child Support Agency. He proposed a mediation phase that would reduce the number of claimants from its current burdensome 290,000 a year. It is believed that he may involve the private sector in the mediation, though how he plans to do that was not immediately known.

"The CSA receives a barrage of claims demanding enforced maintenance payments. Blunkett’s proposal included a scheme that will offer “a non-legislative and simple route to finding agreement” he announced at a Labour conference .... He explained that errant fathers would be given a warning and asked to provide maintenance for their child else they would end up paying much more than is due. The plan promises to prove effective as errant parents would be encouraged to sit down and talk for an agreement on levels of support before going through the CSA procedure. Fearing the nightmarish process and eventually having to pay more than is fairly due, would persuade the irresponsible parent.

"A trial run of the scheme would be launched to see its effectiveness. The system would include a gateway that would allow the agency to monitor how they can conciliate with parents before they get into the CSA".

A problem faced by the government is that many of those cases are "benefits cases", and are compulsory. They are mandated by the legislation in the hope that a lone parent on benefits can have her (or his) benefits reduced as a result of the child support being paid.

Child Support Analysis wants this compulsion be be eliminated. A paper proposing this has been sent to many politicians and civil servants both in 2002 and 2005. If that is what the new proposal will do, that is good. But that would probably mean having to abandon the idea of trying to use child support to benefits expenditure, and politicians, both in government and opposition, have been resisting this, as shown in their responses to the 2002 paper. About 70%+ of the CSA caseload started as benefits cases. Most then cease to be benefits cases later, but by that time a lot of damage has been done.

We wait with interest, to see if realism sets in. A dysfunctional CSA won't save much taxpayer money. It is still possible to use child support to reduce benefits without actually using the CSA directly, by having a compulsory scheme administered outside the CSA. But it would be better to eliminate compulsion and the hope of benefits saving altogether.

14th October 2005

Unofficial sperm donor must pay maintenance

Of course! (See blog for 11 July 2003).

This is about Sweden. It could be about the UK, or other countries. Why should anyone think otherwise? Obviously "Man not included" might think otherwise. But they are wrong. (This is different from official sperm donation, where there is legal immunity from child support).

"A Swedish man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple has been ordered to pay child support for their three children.

"In the early 1990s the man, now 39, donated his sperm to a woman in a lesbian relationship. She had three sons, the oldest of whom is now 13 years old. Although the man signed a document confirming he was the biological father of the children, he told the court the women agreed he would not be involved in their upbringing in any way.

"But when the women separated, the biological mother of the three boys demanded child support payments from the man. He went to court but lost the case and the subsequent appeal before taking the matter to the Supreme Court, the highest appeals court in the country. The Supreme Court has confirmed the earlier rulings, stating that the biological father is required to pay child support to the mother of the three children he indirectly fathered."

15th October 2005

Paramedic tried to sell medical equipment to pay CSA debts

I did not know which way to turn. I had received letters from the Child Support Agency demanding excessive amounts of money and it was also Christmas. 

Thomas Wildman, former paramedic

Hm!

21st October 2005

Is the Inland Revenue even worse than the CSA?

No! But it is trying to be!

You have managed to outdo the Child Support Agency, whose incompetence is on an Olympic scale. 

Paul Flynn, a Labour MP

What does that say about the idea the Inland Revenue should become responsible for collecting child support? Aaaarrrggh!

Gordon Brown may find it impossible to get his £13 billion system of tax credits working properly, MPs were told yesterday. Ann Abraham, the parliamentary and health service ombudsman, told a committee that the flaws in the system were creating "systemic maladministration" and that she was not convinced the problems could all be solved.

Meanwhile, the DWP struggles:

The 134,820 civil servants staffing the DWP's Jobcentres, pension offices, Child Support Agency and Health and Safety Executive, have one of the highest sickness rates in government. They take an average of 12.6 days off work a year at a cost of £100m to the taxpayer.... Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Lord Hunt said cash incentives are planned as part of attempts to tackle high levels of public sector absenteeism.

23rd October 2005

Two down, one to go?

Every lone parent I have talked to who has made that leap back into work says it transforms them. It's about feeling valued. 

Margaret Hodge, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform

There seems to be a suggestion that you would be required to do these activities and there would be more money ... but if you did not, you would be on current rates of benefit, below the poverty line. This is not about the age of the youngest child. It's about the barriers lone parents have, such as very low skills levels and no qualifications. 

Kate Green, director of One Parent Families

In 2002, I published a paper, and sent it to key politicians and civil servants, (both in 2002 and again in September 2005), which proposed the following:

  1. There should be no attempt to use the child support system for benefits savings. Hence there should be no compulsion for a lone parent on Income Support to start a CSA case.
  2. Instead, parents could come to their own agreements about financial support for the children, in the knowledge that the CSA could still be used if either of them wanted to use it. This would reduce the CSA's caseload, and make it easier to sort the mess out.
  3. In order to make benefits savings, Income Support for lone parents should cease when the youngest child went to secondary school.

The idea was that lone parents would have lots more choices, and see more of the child support, when children were young. But later on, especially when the children needed a working role model, the choices would be reduced. (But, of course, the child support system would continue to apply).

David Blunkett proposed changes that sounded rather like "2" at the Labour Party Conference, see blog for 26 September 2005). Now he has proposed "3", see below.

What about "1"? Will they stop compulsion, and stop trying to use the child support system for benefit saving? Let's hope so!

"Single mothers on benefits are to be made to actively seek a job as soon as their youngest child reaches 11, in a government clampdown on unemployment in lone parent households.

"The best way to help their children is "by bringing a wage home", ministers will say. The drive to get more lone parents of secondary school-aged children into jobs is to be launched by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in a Green Paper on "Welfare to Work". Single mothers on benefits with children in secondary school must engage in "work-related activities", including drawing up job-finding plans, and attending regular interviews with employment advisers, and taking training courses. The proposals are designed to cut child poverty and help the Government meet its target of raising from 56 to 70 per cent the proportion of lone parents in paid work".

28th October 2005

Latest CSA statistics published

These have been published for both May 2005 and September 2005. The latter is in a totally different format, and for the first time has useful statistics for the new scheme.

Child Support Analysis will publish some analysis of these as soon as possible. This will take longer than usual because of the revised format. In the meantime, here are the main links to obtain the statistics.

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