Weblog archive for July 2006

24 July 2006

Is it enough? And what does it actually mean?

The announcement today raises as many questions as it answered - probably more. Is there anything other than wishful thinking that suggests the replacement will work? John Hutton was asked in Parliament how the even-newer scheme could run alongside the current schemes. He said that there would only be one scheme in future. But ... that is what was said for the 2000-scheme! Where is there evidence that any scheme will actually be closed as a result of the even-newer scheme? They just get added to existing schemes, because no-one can eliminate old schemes!

Obviously the following was needed, and this site has been saying so, here and in letters and papers to ministers and senior civil servants, from 2002 onwards. (Why, when it has been blindingly obvious to me for 4 years, have I received so much resistance to the ideas until today? Because some people are so obssessed with specific aims, such as putting money back into the Treasury, that they are blind to the fact it it can't be made to work! They would rather condemn the system to years more failure than admit that their pet aims are non-starters).

"Changes for benefit clients: Remove the compulsion for parents with care on benefits to apply for child support".

But that conflicts with the following, which can only be determined if a parent with care on benefits is assessed:

"Disregard child support up to a high threshold in calculating Income Support".

How can it be known if the case is within the high threshold unless it is assessed? There needs to be a total disregard, so that no-one has to check whether any thresholds apply.

What IT systems will any new agency use? How long will they take to develop? Who will do so - the same people who failed with the existing IT systems?

25 July 2006

Is it just me, or are most commentators simply being naive?

My analysis of the news articles following yesterday's statement in Parliament about the CSA is that the authors didn't bother to switch on their critical faculties before writing their headline-grabbing bullshit. (So what is new?)

Here are a few quotes, which I'll leave anonymous because I don't want to embarrass journalists:

"Absent fathers who refuse to pay maintenance for their children could be "named and shamed" on a website and in the local press under new enforcement measures".

This sounds like the sort of knee-jerk reaction behind the proposal for "Sarah's Law", equivalent to "Megan's Law" in the US. It appeals to some newspapers, and to ministers who are trying to appear aligned to those newspapers. It clearly hasn't been thought through.

There are massive problems with doing anything like that without due process of law. It would probably be a violation of human rights, and could lead to civil cases such as slander and libel, unless the facts were verified beforehand. Who could trust any government agency to be certain of getting its facts correct, and not risk publishing the names of innocent people, perhaps people who have paid but whose details have been lost, or people currently appealing? Or simply people whose ex-partners claim they are not paying.

"the Government is to examine a change in the law to make it compulsory for unmarried mothers to register the name of the child's father on the birth certificate. In one in five child support cases, the father's name is not known".

Aides to Mr Hutton have said details of the scheme had to be worked through, but admitted it would not work unless there was some form of penalty for mothers who refused to co-operate. It obviously can't simply be left to the mother to name the father! She may lie or not be sure. It obviously needs cooperation from the putative father, as well, and this obviously may involve a paternity test if there is a dispute. Even once there is a name on the certificate, it may still not be that of the real father, of course! All of these issues are in the open, having been examined in many countries for years - have the government surveyed the landscape?

"John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary .... recommended that passports be confiscated from parents who did not meet their obligations, and promised to impose night curfews on so-called "deadbeat dads'', enforced by electronic tags".

Just 11 driving licences had been seized over four years in one of Labour's previous promised 'crackdowns' on absent fathers. The problem isn't lack of possible punishments. It is lack of will and capability of exploiting the available options. Ministers keep promising extra threats, without ever using all the enforcement processes already available. Presumably it grabs headlines!

"Fathers could be charged for using the organisation that will handle new cases, as an incentive to reach a private arrangement on maintenance with their child's mother".

The option of charging already exists. But it has always been stated that the option can't reasonably be used until the CSA achieved a credible level of service that justified a charge. It never has achieved this, and how many years would it be before a new agency could plausibly be said to have achieved such a level of service?

What happens if the father, (really, this probably means "non resident parent", which could be the mother), is willing to come to a reasonable agreement, but the other parent is holding out for an unreasonable amount? The threat of a charge could be a form of coercion or blackmail. This needs a lot more thought!

"Henshaw recommends creating a smaller agency concentrating on those who fail to pay up and the toughest cases".

The current caseload of the CSA sounds like mostly "those who fail to pay up and the toughest cases"! These are not just a small minority. Since the current resources of the CSA are unable to deal with them, why should it be supposed that the equivalent resources will succeed in future? Who can be certain that it won't need more resources to work properly?

"Hutton also appealed for cross party support for the new body and said it was time to ensure that children do not end up suffering due to the failures of their parents".

There was cross party support in 1991 for the current CSA. That was part of the problem! There was too much agreement, and not enough skepticism and detailed debate.

It is vitally important for every policy, proposal, piece of research, Act, clause, promise, to be subjected to the most comprehensive scrutiny possible, letting nothing get through without full examination. Here are the stages of development of the 2000 CSA legislation. They took massive time and effort, over 5 years, and still failed!

I must correct the impression that all journalists lack perception. Here is one that has a very good grasp of the essential failings of the CSA. In particular, Angela Phillips makes it absolutely clear how silly it is to try to use the CSA for Treasury-saving instead of helping children. She criticises Frank Field, for precisely the reasons that I too criticise Frank Field. (We clashed on live TV in 2003!)

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