Leading article: Back to the drawing board

Share

There can be little doubt that Sir David Henshaw's damning review is the last nail in the coffin of the troubled Child Support Agency, at least in the form in which it was originally conceived. The Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, informed the House of Commons yesterday that the CSA will limp on, serving those parents for whom the present system is delivering. But it will no longer be the comprehensive system to assess, review, collect and enforce child maintenance payments that was devised by the Conservative former social security secretary Tony Newton in 1993.

Instead, a new agency will be established to focus on those parents who persistently refuse to co-operate. Such people, we are told, face being electronically tagged, prevented from going out after work, or even having their passports confiscated - New Labour's standard punishments for those who engage in anti-social behaviour. It is a shame it has come to this, because the CSA was fundamentally a good idea: a neutral agency designed to take the acrimony from child maintenance payments. It was welcomed across the political spectrum as a replacement for a court-based system that was widely seen as unfair and arbitrary.

But the CSA never functioned as intended. It was a mess in 1997 when Labour took power, having been bedevilled by mistakes and miscalculations. And this government has done nothing to improve it since. Its implementation of a costly computer system, unsurprisingly, proved a disaster. The agency now recovers less than it costs to run.

Maladministration is undoubtedly part of the reason for the CSA's failure, especially the lazy assumption that throwing technology at the problem would be the solution. But accelerating social breakdown among families, particularly those at the bottom of the income range, is also a big factor. Quite simply, it is increasingly difficult to get fathers (and it is still overwhelmingly fathers) to pay up.

There are certainly problems inherent in sanctioning the state to intervene in such matters - not least the fact that when the system fails, it is the state, rather than the non-paying parent, that is blamed. And yet the state has little option but to get involved. Money not collected is money denied to children. What is more, money not claimed has to be paid out by the state. It cannot be right that the state should be burdened simply because certain parents refuse to acknowledge their financial responsibilities to their offspring. Some form of government intervention to enforce negligent parents to pay out remains the only fair way forward. The Government has no choice but to go back to the drawing board and devise a system that will actually work.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on