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Suicide and the CSA

Does the CSA drive people to suicide?

Obviously neither the CSA nor the government will admit it does, but what is the evidence either way?

It would not be surprising if the CSA leads people to suicide, perhaps as "the final straw". The Men's Health Forum says:

"Most suicides occurred because the individual felt disconnected from their community, family and friends; they failed to adjust to social change (suggesting that this occurs during periods of economic depression); or resulted from the individual losing their personal identity and wishing to sacrifice their life for the ‘community’ (as in the case of ‘cult’ suicides). Durkheim and others have argued that the higher societal fragmentation, the higher the suicide rate. This fragmentation can take a number of forms, with the loss of a job, divorce, poor social networks and low community affiliation all highlighted as factors in suicide."

Think what this means to any separated parent, but especially one who may have lost significant contact with "his" children, has possibly had to move out of the house so that the children can live there with the mother, and may well have lost contact with about half of the friends and acquaintances. And then along comes an Agency which treats him as an "Absent Parent" and takes money off him to hand over to someone he may now hate.

Furthermore, this Agency has sometimes displayed such extended periods of unrelenting incompetence that even the best-placed people consider giving up. Consider the real case of a lone mother who spent 6 years trying to get the CSA to collect the money from her ex for the children. Despite a phone call to them each week, and a letter each month, and going via her MP to the Independent Case Examiner (where she got a favourable report) and the Ombudsman (where she also got a favourable report), they failed for 6 years to deliver. But because they existed, her other options were shut-off - she had to use the CSA instead of the courts, but while the courts may have delivered, they didn't. She had the choice of quitting, and she did (with the loss of very many £1000s). A non-resident parent would have had no legal way out. The attitude of the CSA towards an NRP (especially a man) can be appalling even compared to this attitude to a female PWC.

NACSA's "Book Of The Dead"

NACSA (the National Association for Child Support Action) maintains a "Book Of The Dead" which records newspaper articles about suicides and murders in which the CSA is mentioned as having a role. They identify over 50 such suicides and murder victims, some of them with both a murder and suicide, for example a father who killed his 4 children and committed suicide.

There are a number of comments that could be made about the Book Of The Dead, for example the fact that it publishes aspects of the lives of dead people that perhaps their relatives would rather not be published. Perhaps those relatives would not want their dead used as a sort of "rallying call". (Their relatives are not consulted before the newspaper articles are copied onto the NACSA web site).

But those are not what is being analysed here. This page is concerned with the value (or otherwise) of the Book Of The Dead as evidence that the CSA causes such deaths.

Evidence?

Suicide must be considered a possibility, but what is the evidence? First, given the number of "clients" of the CSA, would any of them be expected to commit suicide anyway? Start off by looking at the "case-years" - a case-year is one CSA case (2 parents plus 1 or more children) for 1 year, or 2 cases for half a year, or whatever. At the moment of writing this article, the CSA is 8 years old. ("Happy Birthday To You, ...." ... sorry, bad joke). Assume linear growth since it started (not strictly true, but we only need approximate numbers here).

 

 

This is about 4 million case-years, or 8 million parent-years. So how many men out of (say) half-a-million (the male population of Birmingham, say) would commit suicide in 8 years? See the Samaritans' figures. Perhaps 760 - even if they weren't selected for the conditions which The Men's Health Forum considers to be suicidal. But, of course, NRPs are not representative of the general population. They obviously have a higher proportion of separations & divorces & loss of social contact & loss of contact with children, and these are correlated with increased suicide. This probably leaves yet others who are close, but not there, and may be vulnerable to an extra problem. Perhaps that is where the CSA comes in (although it could also be debt collectors or any other significant problem). But the survivors of a tragedy tend to want simple answers, and preferably someone to blame, and the media like a dramatic story. So there would have been significantly more than 760 suicides among the people who are or have been NRPs even if the CSA had never existed.

So how many did commit suicide? If it was lots more than 760, it would suggest that something serious is going on. NACSA's "Book Of The Dead" identifies about 46 - mostly clustered in the first few years of the CSA's existence.

Hm!

In the last couple of years, it would be expected that 332 non-resident parents would have committed suicide, even if the CSA were a completely benign organisation and the non-resident parents were not part of a high-risk group. But NACSA records 2 suicides in that time. This says little about how many were driven to suicide by the CSA, but it does say that NACSA's "Book Of The Dead" doesn't add any value to the discussion. At a case load of 1 million, about 190 non-resident parents could be expected to commit suicide in 2001 - more than 1 every 2 days. Out of all of these so far, none appear to have been attributed to the CSA according to NACSA.

It probably isn't worth doing a similar detailed analysis about murder, or about parents with care who might commit suicide. In summary:

  1. With a case-load of about 1 million, about 14 NRPs would commit murder each year even if they were not a high risk group. Over the life of the CSA, about 49 NRPs should have been expected to commit murder, if they had simply been equivalent men in the population. In fact, NACSA has just identified 2 or 3 who have committed murder.
  2. The suicide rate for women is about one third of that for men. So during the life of the CSA about 250+ female parents, typically PWCs, should have been estimated to have committed suicide. NACSA has not recorded a single female PWC committing suicide. In fact, the only female suicide is the partner of a male NRP.

There probably have been suicides and murders as a result of the CSA. Perhaps they still occur, with the CSA being "the final straw". But don't look to NACSA for the evidence - they simply don't have it. In fact, the last death recorded in the Book Of The Dead was 24th August 1999 - over two years ago. If the Book Of The Dead were good evidence, it would be evidence that despite a caseload of about 1 million, there have been no such deaths in more than 2 years. Perhaps NACSA should rethink how it analyses and publicises this topic.

References

[1] Samaritans - Suicide Statistics 1998

"The English suicide rate was 12 per 100,000 population in 1998.
For males, the suicide rate was 19, for females it was 6, per 100,000.
There has been a 8% decrease in the suicide rate since 1990 in England".

Also see "Suicide in the UK and Ireland": "in the UK and Ireland nearly 6,700 people took their own life in 1998; almost double the death toll from road traffic accidents. It is estimated that at least 160,000 people attempt suicide each year in England and Wales alone."

Note: other sources report somewhat lower suicide rates than this. The analysis on this page does not depend on fine details - its order of magnitude is about right.

[2] The Men’s Health Forum

"Most suicides occurred because the individual felt disconnected from their community, family and friends; they failed to adjust to social change (suggesting that this occurs during periods of economic depression); or resulted from the individual losing their personal identity and wishing to sacrifice their life for the ‘community’ (as in the case of ‘cult’ suicides). Durkheim and others have argued that the higher societal fragmentation, the higher the suicide rate. This fragmentation can take a number of forms, with the loss of a job, divorce, poor social networks and low community affiliation all highlighted as factors in suicide."

[3] NACSA "Book Of The Dead"

NACSA simply copy newspaper articles about suicides that mention the CSA. They have every reason to show the maximum number of such cases possible.

While some of the articles are strongly suggestive about the possible causes, others show a mixture of potential causes, for example: "I think it was a combination of his inability to break his drug habit, the financial pressures he found mounting against him and in particular the problems with the CSA".

Or: "Mr XXX drove to a remote part of the New Forest and gassed himself inside his car the day after he received a CSA assessment and realised his wife, YYY, would find out about the baby, born as a result of a brief and 'purely sexual' affair. He had been paying £20 a week to the baby's mother, but the CSA became involved last month and wrote to Mr XXX, an area manager for a hotel chain, the inquest heard. His wife said later: "He died to keep a secret.""

Or: "A married executive who was secretly paying maintenance for an illegitimate baby killed himself after receiving a letter from the Child Support Agency and fearing he was about to be exposed, a Southampton inquest heard yesterday."

Drugs & guilty secrets - in some cases the CSA is simply not the root cause at all. Who knows whether it is ever a deciding factor?

A quick analysis of the NACSA "Book Of The Dead" suggests that about 80% or more of the news articles wouldn't be plausible under the new system. That doesn't mean that the deaths wouldn't have taken place - probably the articles don't always reliably state the REAL reasons - but they certainly wouldn't happen for the reasons stated.

[4] RP99-056 (House of Commons research 1999) - Homicide Statistics
Murder / manslaughter / infanticide: England & Wales 98-99 : 750
1997, England & Wales: 1.4 per 100,000

Expected murders from NRPs: 14 per year (assuming 1 million NRPs).
Expected murders from NRPs since the CSA started: 49.

Page last updated: 1 July, 2005 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003