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Debate (1998) - "A chance to debate the future"

(The debate took place well before Google took over the news archive from The links here may not all work properly since the take-over. If so, it should be possible to find them by doing a search using the word-in-title "DEBATE", author "Ward", for the dates from start of March 1998 to end of May 1998).


First versus Second Families - DEBATE John Ward - 03/27/1998

Ms Harman: I invite the House to consider three further points. We face some difficult choices in the necessary reform of child support.

First, what is the appropriate balance between the interests of the first and second families?


The Government's mantra is: "Children are entitled to the financial and emotional support of both parents wherever they may live". (The CSA is just concerned with the finance part). So let's look at it from the child's point of view.

Take a particular parent (the "xxther" - mother or father as you choose). Then ALL children of that xxther should get the SAME financial support from that xxther as the rest. ("A child is for life, not just for Christmas").

Financial support includes: - consumables (clothes, food, etc) - investment-in-life (education, etc) - shelter (the marginal extra cost of a bigger house) - care (ensuring that there is SOMEONE to care for the child)

So instead of "first" and "second" families, from each parents' view there should be just extended families of children.

The finances should be evenly spread over all children concerned.


Simple System versus Targeted System - DEBATE John Ward - 03/27/1998

Secondly, what is the right balance between a clear, simple and straightforward system and a complex system that deals very closely with individual needs?


The complexity of CSA assessment arises partly from an attempt to target the money. Parts of the complexity results from attempts to close loopholes and stop unneedy people receiving benefit. Other parts of the complexity arise from an attempt to pay money to special needy cases (or avoid collecting from needy cases) who would not receive money under a blanket payment.

If CSA assessment were replaced by a much simpler scheme, with the same total money available, I would expect that many needy people would be worse off, and many unneedy people would be better off.

Maintenance based purely on a proportion of income ignores circumstance. A person with new (post-separation) dependents may be worse off than a person with no new dependents. An AP with a working, even highly-paid, PWC may have the same maintenance assessment as an AP with a destitute PWC.

The scheme should not be too simple. (Unless APs make assessment and collection so hard that there is no choice - in that case, the APs themselves suffer the consequences).


Taxpayer versus Parent Interest - DEBATE John Ward - 03/27/1998

Thirdly, what is the right balance between the need of parents with care to receive income for their children and the interests of taxpayers not to have to support other people's children?


The 2 extremes are: - children are an investment in society's future, so society should pay all the cost - children are the choice of their parents, so the parents should pay all the cost

I'll go with the latter view. If I didn't ask you to bring children into the world, I believe YOU (both parents) have decided to do so, and should pay for them.

"Pay/cost" includes the following:

- consumables (clothes, food, etc) - investment-in-life (education, etc) - shelter (the marginal extra cost of a bigger house) - care (ensuring that there is SOMEONE to care for the child)

Paying benefits to either party should be a last resort, and should normally only be done as a result of a New Deal (welfare-to-work) programme.


Retrospective versus New Cases - DEBATE John Ward - 03/27/1998

Mr. Rendel: Does the Secretary of State expect any new formula to apply only to new cases, or will it apply also to cases that have already been agreed under CSA regulations--which would lead to difficulties such as cases being reopened and redecided and a lot of losers?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are trying to reform a system, but it is difficult to do so when we have a great tangle and a sense--and the reality--of injustice. For people who have had incorrect awards made and those who have had correct awards made but who have failed to pay, the issue of transitional arrangements will be critical in achieving public confidence in the new and reformed system that we should like to see evolve.


Eventually it has to apply to all cases, not just new ones.

However, I recognise that, just like 1993, this may cause problems with people who had managed to adjust to the existing system.

There may have to be agreed departures for a time - with a target that the people concerned have to adjust their finances within (say) 3 years.


Dealing with Non-Payers - DEBATE John Ward - 03/27/1998

Mr. Wicks: Given that the great majority of mothers and children on income support receive no child maintenance from their fathers, will the Secretary of State consider setting a new target to tackle the tough cases: the men who are determined never to pay a penny? In my advice surgery on Friday night, I met a mother who had supplied all the information that was needed to the CSA. Two years on, she is still not receiving a penny.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is a huge sense of grievance among absent parents--usually fathers--when there is a delay in assessing maintenance and then, suddenly, they are hit with large arrears that might turn out to be incorrect; there is also a burning sense of grievance among parents with care--usually mothers--that although a correct award has been made, fathers sometimes avoid paying.


I can understand the reluctance of people to cooperate with the current CSA regime. Everyone agrees that it is very flakey.

This excuse cannot live forever. Anyone with a strong view should "speak now or forever hold their peace".

Once the new system is in place, there should be a strong enforcement system. In Wisconsin this includes losing licences (for example, driving licences), etc.

I believe that once the new system is in place, it should represent "how the UK handles child support", and set the standard for the next generation.

Page last updated: 17 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003