Letter: Social benefits with no room for discretion

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Government's proposals to modify the child support formula will go a long way to alleviate the hardships claimed by some low-income absent fathers. However, the main method chosen to achieve this is seriously flawed.

The Government proposes a significant increase in the protected income level. The result will be that the liability of some absent parents, especially those with new families (including step-families), whose current liability is around pounds 40- pounds 50 a week could be reduced by 50 per cent or more. But relatively small increments in the absent parent's income will incur rapid increases in child support liability, constituting a work disincentive and incentives to conceal (and dispute) income gains.

Worse still, income (and income increments) from the absent parent's partner will have the same effect. Not only will this encourage the partner to believe that she is supporting the man's former family, disputes over the extent of her income are likely. This is a radical departure from one of the foundational principles of the scheme, which was to keep the income of the partners of the parents out of the picture as far as possible. The income of the carer's partner is accordingly ignored, and this will cause further resentment.

There was a fairer and simpler option: to reduce the deduction rate on disposable income from the excessive 50 per cent to lower figures, depending on the number of children to be supported, coupled with a further reduction for step-families. If it is too late to reconsider, the Government is not out of the wood yet, quite apart from the issue of clean breaks.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN EEKELAAR

Pembroke College,

Oxford

24 December

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