CSA: estranged parents, non-benefit cases, failings of the Act : LETTER S

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The Independent Online
From Mr Peter Turville and others Sir: The Government, the Opposition and the media have all missed the point about the crisis facing the Child Support Act. There remain three major failings with child support policy.

First, it is too complex. Until the system is simplified, the Child Support Agency will not be able to provide an accurate and reliable service to both parents with care of their children and absent parents.

Second, the CSA does nothing for those parents with care on the lowest incomes. Until parents on benefit receive some financial gain from the CSA, it will have failed to help those the Government say it was set up to assist. The Child Support Act does nothing to relieve child poverty in the UK.

Finally, the policy is separating the issue of money from all the other emotional and practical issues of separation. Real people do not make this distinction. The divisive effects of the policy on people's lives must be addressed.

The CSA has taken much of the blame for the failure of the Government's child support policy. The Government admitted the administrative difficulty in November when it shelved some of the agency's current caseload. Yesterday the problem was again acknowledged when the Government effectively abandoned the planned future take on of non-benefit cases from 1996. Yet at the same time, the Government is introducing changes which will make the Act even more complex to administer. The agency will be required toimplement major changes by April that will involve re-examining all existing cases. Past experience suggests the agency will not meet this target.

In the short term, yesterday's announcement appears an astute policy move. It answers many of the complaints of absent fathers. Yet Parliament has understood the symptoms but not the cause.

In the long term, yesterday's changes will prolong the agony of parents with care, absent parents and the staff of the CSA. Parliament will eventually have to scrap the current Act and start again.

Yours faithfully, PETER TURVILLE TRACEY EGGLESTON SANDRA FIGGESS Oxfordshire Welfare Rights Headington, Oxfordshire