LETTER : Child support system is deaf to justice

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Sir: Polly Toynbee is unwise to assume that the failure of the Child Support Agency is anything so simple as "a fathers' conspiracy to defraud" (article, 23 June).

The study of single parents in 20 countries by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and others found that in none of them does maintenance achieve a major contribution to the support of lone parents. This may prompt the suspicion that the money is not always there.

The CSA's formula cannot guarantee that the money is there. Though the scheme of departures from the formula introduced in the 1995 Act looks good at a casual glance, the sums allowed under it are negligible. It does not end cases like the man who was advised by the CSA to raise the money to pay maintenance by selling the car, without which he could not work. As is illustrated by Polly Toynbee's own story of the daughter who eloped with her stepfather and whose mother was bound to support her, a formula and justice are incompatible.

No parliamentarian will defend illegal resistance, but such resistance is the inevitable consequence of a deaf system which cannot give so much as a hearing to injustice. That story also illustrates that the relations of the sexes are not a zero-sum game, and women are no happier with the CSA than men.

Polly Toynbee looks forward to the day when the CSA is seen as "the friend of all lone parents". That will not happen until they are allowed to choose whether to avail themselves of its services, instead of being compelled to do so by a total denial of benefit if they refuse. This is perhaps the grossest example of oppression in the whole of our existing law.


Liberal Democrat Social Security Spokesman

House of Lords

London SW1