At last the Government is changing the way the Child Support Agency works, so single parents have to give back 4 per cent of the maintenance the agency collects to cut costs to the taxpayer.
Because for too long we’ve allowed one group to plunder our economy with relentless greed: kids of single parents. But if you calmly explain to a child whose dad ran off and won’t give his mum any money, “Well, you should be ashamed of the way you wrecked the global economy with your decadence, and I for one will never forgive your recklessness, you four-year-old parasite”, they look at you with a sense of utter bewilderment. It’s just take take take with some people, isn’t it?
A government spokesman said the changes weren’t just to cut costs; they were to “encourage couples who had split up to work things out amicably”. This is a charming gesture, but amicableness does sometimes require both parties to be amicable. For example, if one partner says, “Let’s sort out the maintenance payments over a coffee and some lovely home-made lemon cake”, and the other one says, “Shut it, you slag. I’m paying nothing, and if you contact Jeremy Kyle I’ll blow the house up”, the amicability might tend to break down if you’re not careful.
If you were to apply some advanced detective work, you might conclude most people aren’t likely to contact the Child Support Agency to track down their ex-partner and pursue them for child maintenance they’re refusing to pay unless the amicability had already slid a little.
Or maybe the Government is right, and couples contact it as a luxury. “I tell you what, darling,” they say, “these payment figures we’ve worked out seem absolutely fine, but it’s a shame not to use the Child Support Agency as it’s free. After all, we’ve worked hard and paid for it out of our taxes. Next, sweetheart, I was thinking, the homicide squad is also free at the point of use, so I was considering giving them a call to say you’d murdered my mother. It seems a shame not to, as it’s free.”
Or perhaps couples decide the reason they broke up was they were spending too much time cooped up together, and pursuing a maintenance case through the CSA would be a way for them both to widen their circle of friends.
As well as taking 4 per cent of the payments, there will be an £20 application fee. So that should weed out the people who make a claim just for a laugh. Because it’s common for young people to have a few beers, then, caught up in high spirits, ring the CSA and make a claim for maintenance payments with no regard for the damage they’re doing to the national deficit.
If it’s fair that the person who’s been, in effect, robbed should have to pay to get money back from the person who robbed them, this should apply in other cases. For example, if the police catch a burglar, instead of bringing you back all the stuff, they should be able to take 4 per cent of what was stolen. “I’m pleased to say it’s all there,” the police officer would say, “except for a selection of CDs and a necklace the sergeant fancied to go towards costs.”
More importantly, by imposing a charge this would encourage those who’ve been robbed to seek an amicable settlement with the burglar, without the need to involve outside agencies at a cost to the taxpayer.
Maybe people having heart attacks could be asked to pay a £20 application fee, so instead of involving costly paramedics and defibrillators, these leeches decide to be more amicable with their arteries.
But the smartest change to the maintenance system is the estranged parent has to pay an extra 20 per cent, on top of their payment, which goes to the Government. This is sure to encourage parents who don’t pay already to start making a contribution, as one of the reasons they don’t comply in the first place is they worry how much their case is costing the taxpayer.
Often the CSA appears useless anyway, with cases apparently closed if the person they are pursuing proves uncooperative, and the case gets dropped. So if there is going to be a range of fees, it may be more effective to outsource the agency altogether to the debt collecting unit of the Russian mafia.
Because if you’re going to pay 4 per cent of the money owed to you, instead of waiting two years for an understaffed office to find forms they keep losing, you’d rather have a huge, bald bloke with six earrings arriving at the estranged parent’s house to say, “Give me carpet now for to give to son, and give Xbox and all socks and fish fingers from fridge or it is very bad for you I think.”
As the Department for Works and Pensions spokesman said, the current system is “costly to the taxpayer”. Once again, the poor taxpayer forks out. Because there are two types of people in Britain – those who use up taxes, with their schools and fire engines and libraries and lampposts and claims for maintenance; and somewhere, over a distant hill, the taxpayers, an entirely separate tribe, every day screaming, “Oh, what am I being asked to pay for now?”