"Children First" & Sharing of Care: Problems with the proposed formula, and a revised proposal
by Barry Pearson
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Commentary in 2002

At the consultation stage of the CSA reform process during 1998, the Green Paper proposed a modification to the basic formula to allow for sharing of care:

"It would not be practical to change child maintenance liability for very irregular or infrequent visits. However, we propose that when a child spends at least 52 nights a year (one night a week on average) with the non-resident parent, liability should be reduced. We suggest reducing liability by one seventh of the weekly rate for each night of the week that the child spends with the non-resident parent."

At first sight this appeared plausible. But in fact it is most unjust. This is seen at its most serious failure - when the parents share the care of the child equally. What happens there is that one becomes the parent with care, and the other becomes the non-resident parent. And the latter pays the former nearly half as much as if the non-resident parent never saw the child. (The one who claims Child Benefit becomes the parent with care - and the social security law is that when there is a conflict, it is the mother who can claim Child Benefit. So there is a sex-bias in the child support system).

This and other problems were analysed in this paper. Although this paper was never submitted as a stand-alone paper to government, it was circulated and discussed among some interested parties.

Then this paper formed part of the response to the Green Paper of a consortium bidding for the ACCORD contract. ACCORD ("Access to Corporate Data") was a project to replace the major computer systems of the Department of Social Security, including that of the CSA. (It was another consortium, led by EDS, which eventually won the contract, and at the time of writing EDS is still developing the new computer system for the CSA).

Families Need Fathers had an alternative proposal for modifying the formula to handle shared care. Their alternative was rejected by government. So during 1999 they (in fact Karen Randall) discussed the proposal in this paper with me, and Families Need Fathers adopted this as their proposal to government.

Families Need Fathers decided to make this one of their main submissions to the Social Security Select Committee after the White Paper (which modified the Green Paper's formula a little) was published. I helped them prepare the case, including helping to develop a set of case studies showing how bad the interaction of child support and social security anomolies can be for non-resident parents who share the care of their children. Then Families Need Fathers and I jointly presented the evidence to the Social Security Select Committee on 15th September 1999. I wrote a separate paper on this subject which criticised the White Paper and made a similar proposal to the one here. That appeared as an Appendix to the Report of the Social Security Select Committee, and is also published on this web site.

Baroness Hollis, the minister concerned, rejected the proposed alternative, in a letter to me published on this web site.

The final formula is a little different from the one criticised in this current paper. There is a curious "tweak" at the point where both parents share care equally. However, this does not eliminate the sex discrimination in the scheme, which can result in a father paying the mother child support even where they share care equally (and even if she earns more than him).

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Page last updated: 4 November, 2002 © Copyright Barry Pearson 1998