Interesting article from the Guardian on the child support agency, and whether the Government should be charging parents who need to get the child support agency involved.
I’m not yet sure what I think of this, besides the immediate thought that the word “victims” to describe parents who use the CSA is misguided. There are many different families out there, but the media (and the CSA, it appears) seem to accept without question the assumption of mother and children abandoned by deadbeat dad. Sometimes this is the case. But these are human beings we’re talking about, with messy, complicated lives. Sometimes relationships fall apart. Sometimes it’s neither easy nor right to place the blame.
Of course the state needs to ensure that children don’t go hungry. It’s in everyone’s interests to raise kids well, in a way which helps them be part of wider society. Clothes and school books cost money, and if the parent is unable to provide then someone else has to.
But the CSA hardly seems the most efficient tool for the job. My experience is that it spends half of its time overpaying people, and the other half desperately clawing back the extra money from people who have (understandably) spent what they thought was theirs. Furthermore, many of the people it’s working with are on low incomes. I’m betting that a lot of those “deadbeat dads” aren’t paying because they can’t.
This does raise a question about the wider tax system. For parents on minimum wage, we take their earnings in taxes, only to give much of it back in benefits. How does that make good financial sense?
We need a smaller agency, with an IT system which works (so not implemented by Capita or Capgemini), set within a tax system which doesn’t tax those on minimum wage. We need something which works through people who may already know the families, such as local government, and which doesn’t have institutional presumptions as to what a family should look like. What we do have just doesn’t seem to be working.