LETTER: Time to reform the CSA

IT IS a sign of the Treasury-driven CSA's success that Labour has ruled out a return to the court-based system of child maintenance assessment ("Child agency a 'total failure' ", 7 April).

Neither the Government nor Labour MP Frank Field's Commons social security select committee have produced the slightest shred of evidence to back up the myth that "pounds 360m of social security books have been returned by people who are not entitled to claim benefits and feared further investigation". Nor has any attempt been made to explain how these women and their children are surviving.

It is more likely that the 119,000 women simply "disappeared" off benefit because they feared harassment from their ex-partners through the CSA's intervention - so far it has been linked to 37 deaths (murders of women and children and the suicides of fathers). In 1994-95 it also impoverished those parents on benefit to the tune of pounds 292m just when the upper limit on what richer men must pay was halved.

The pounds 500m that the CSA costs to run could instead fund a return to the fairer chart system and finance an agency with powers only to collect. Or is it that new Labour is happy with this month's doubling of "minimum maintenance" deductions to pounds 4.80 a week from the 41 per cent of "absent fathers" who are already receiving means-tested benefit?

Russell Cavanagh