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Debate (1998) - Some observations from the Debate


Some observations from the DEBATE John Ward - 04/29/1998

Here are some general observations from the DEBATE threads.

At times I've despaired about the self-destructive tendencies of this newsgroup.


NOW is the last sensible time to influence the policy for child support for the next decade. Don't wait for the Green Paper to come out. Don't hope that there is someone else to fight your case. Your MP may be willing to ensure that the CSA is reformed/replaced, but since that is inevitable, this is not a major benefit.

What would you like your MP to stand up in the Commons and say (a couple of sentences)? What would you like your MP to say to Baroness Hollis if the opportunity arises? "Please reform the CSA". Oh, yes?


I naively thought that consensus could be achieved on these topics. I now realise what should have been obvious - this is a newsgroup united solely by bad feelings towards the CSA, and typically sympathy towards "clients" of the CSA.

There is no other commonality. Even the focusses of hatred differ widely.

(A lot of the posts aren't even about the CSA. They are about wo/men behaving badly, WO/mans' inhumanity to WO/man, loss of (access to) a child, regret about the recklessness of youth, quality of laboratory testing in a commercial world, etc).

The result is that whatever Government does, it will upset many people. The one thing that would please just about everyone would be to have a system which presented a competent interface - accurate, responsive, objective, non-judgemental, informative.


I haven't a child of my own, but my ex had a child from a previous partner, and didn't receive maintenance. The marginal extra cost of the child was far higher than typical amounts suggested in this newsgroup, especially taking into account the bigger house.

APs typically talk down the costs of children, until it is time to try to reserve money for their second family, when they try to talk up the cost ... hm! The fact is, separated parents won't identify a sensible cost of child support. It has to be done for them.

This is a personal view, rather than one coming from the thread. The cost of bringing up a child should include:

  1. child care / child minding
  2. extra cost of larger accommodation
  3. consumables (food, clothing, etc)
  4. education & entertainment
  5. pocket-money

This is typically higher than most people accept.


It tends to be in the financial interests of the separated parents to arrange their financial affairs to MAXIMISE the amount of means-tested benefit they claim between them. So typically the AP wants the PWC to receive as much benefit as possible.

In general, taxpayers want separated parents to MINIMISE the amount of means-tested benefit they claim between them. The ideal for taxpayers would be for the parents to claim no more means-tested benefit after separation than they did before - why should getting separated enable them collectively to take more from taxpayers?

This sounds mean of the taxpayers - people can't always help their circumstances, and need assistance at difficult times. OK, but it isn't JUST being mean:

Suppose that after separation the parents get £50 more benefit between them than while they were living together. This means taxpayers are making an open offer: "here is £50 for you to get separated or PRETEND to get separated". This sounds like an anti-family policy or an invitation to fraud.

OK, this is the last thing on the minds of most people in these desperate circumstances. But it is one of the standard types of Income Support fraud, and must be taken into account when setting policy - where there is money, SOME people will go.

A side issue, more common on the CSA-reform web sites than this newsgroup: talking about maintenance "paying the Treasury", or "repaying the DSS", or whatever, just hides the fact that these bodies are simply pipework between tax payers and tax spenders. Taxpayers aren't fooled - "re-imbursing the Treasury" means "avoiding the taxpayer having to pay to bring up someone else's child" - and a Government whose electorate are mostly taxpayers isn't fooled either. (There are 50 times as many taxpayers as APs paying more than £5 per week. In a fight, who will win?).


A lot of discussion is of the form "I did this before the CSA came along, why should I now pay for it?" There is a case for separating the rules for existing and future cases, as was eventually done for clean breaks (I believe).

But the main legislation must focus on the future. Allowing an exception in future for those earlier cases would simply encourage that behaviour in future, or encourage people to CLAIM that behaviour. For example, if an exception is made for people who had a casual leg-over several years ago, then this might be a good story to be used in future even when it isn't actually the case - it will enable the couple to maximise their total benefits.

The trick is to distinguish between the 2 cases, and cater for the future without being too hard on those who got into the situation unawares.


There are no conclusions about what is fair. There is NO consensus about what "fairness" means. It appears to be a figment of the imaginations of people who want the system to cater for a quirk of their own personal circumstances.

I've pretty well given up on this, except that it should take sharing of care into account. Just adapt!


A lot of the debate took a narrow viewpoint, for example just the APs'. This is not surprising, but it makes the story impossible to sell to Government.

If you can't show advantages, or at least lack of disadvantage, for the following, you barely have a starter: children; PWC; AP; taxpayer/voter. At least show you've thought about them. Remember that the decision-makers can do sums - don't try to bullshit them.

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