Welfare reforms target absent fathers

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The Independent Online

Reforms to child maintenance, pensions and benefits were unveiled by Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling today as the Government continued its controversial modernisation of the welfare state.

Reforms to child maintenance, pensions and benefits were unveiled by Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling today as the Government continued its controversial modernisation of the welfare state.

Reforming welfare has already caused friction between the Government and some of its backbenchers and the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill, published today, looks likely to prompt further controversy on several fronts.

The Bill provides for a radical revision of the way the much-criticised Child Support Agency (CSA) calculates and then enforces child maintenance payments.

To replace the existing complex system for calculating payments due, there will be a new, simpler system of percentage rates based on the absent parent's net income.

Another reform will see the introduction of a "one strike and you're out" rule, under which absent fathers who miss even a single payment will have the owed money deducted directly from their salary.

"We're making it far easier for fathers to support their children, but we're being far tougher on those who won't," said Mr Darling.

The Bill will also see a novel crossover between the workings of the welfare and criminal justice systems.

Offenders who fail to comply with community sentences passed by the courts will be liable to have Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Training Allowances reduced or temporarily withdrawn.

In perhaps the most far-reaching reforms, the Bill will take forward updating of pensions, encouraging employers to provide more user-friendly schemes, and introducing the State Second Pension to help low and moderate earners save for their retirement and give pension rights to carers and disabled people with broken work records.

The Government estimates that around 11 million people will be better off when they retire as a result.

Welfare reform has already proved a major headache for the Government.

Its previous Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill only made it on to the statute book at the very end of the last Parliamentary session after a series of rebellions in the Commons and the Lords over plans to cut incapacity benefit.

The new Bill is also likely to attract criticism.

The plan to dock the benefits of the so-called community sentence "no-shows" has already been condemned by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which called it "retrograde and counterproductive".

Critics of the CSA, including the Law Society and the Liberal Democrats, have argued that the organisation should be scrapped, rather than simply reformed.

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