Weblog archive for December 2003

1st December 2003

The Government promised not to let this computer cock-up happen!

... the new child support scheme should not be implemented until the new computer system is fully operational. 

Social Security Select Committee report, November 1999

The new system will be implemented only when the supporting IT is operating effectively.... We know about the problems of the past. They arose ... because the decision was taken in the early days to press ahead when there was real doubt about whether all the necessary systems were in place. I will not let that happen again. 

Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, March 2002

The current problems aren't simply a matter of "teething problems" 9 months after the "go live" date of 3rd March 2003. That date itself was already a year after a delay had been announced. And that in turn was already a long time after the originally required date.

On 20th March 2002, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Alistair Darling) addressed the House of Commons, and said:

"I have made it clear on many occasions that we would not implement the reforms until I was confident that the new system would work effectively."

"I said ... that we would not repeat the mistakes made in 1993 when the Child Support Agency was introduced. The timetable then was rushed: the organisation was not ready and some key aspects of the information technology system were not finally delivered until two months after the start date. So the IT, critical to the system, was simply not there. We know the consequences - the system descended into chaos within weeks."

"We know that any new IT system will inevitably have teething problems on introduction, but we will proceed only when I am satisfied that it is working to the standards that we expect.... In my view, until the testing process is complete, I will not have the assurance that I need to authorise the start of the new system. I have therefore decided for that reason to defer the planned start date. The new system will be implemented only when the supporting IT is operating effectively.... We know about the problems of the past. They arose in part because the rules were too complicated, but also because the decision was taken in the early days to press ahead when there was real doubt about whether all the necessary systems were in place. I will not let that happen again."

Gosh! In 1993 "some key aspects of the information technology system were not finally delivered until two months after the start date". And now nine months after the start of the new scheme, the computer system is still not working properly! How things change!

In his address, Alistair Darling said "The House will want to know the cost implications of the delay. Inevitably, there are some, but the contract with EDS specified that the Department will not pay for the computer system until it meets the standard required, and that remains the position". The Guardian reports "The government is withholding 15% of the monthly payments to EDS because of the problems". So "not pay" really means "pay 85%"!

2nd December 2003

Rebel priests tell Catholics - take the pill

These quotes from the Sunday Times say it all. The Pope has lost the plot. He is out of touch with the Bible, and with the Real World. But that can be said for pretty well everything the Catholic Church says about contraceptives!

No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now or will ever render such an act (using contraception) lawful in itself. 

Pope John Paul II

Strictly speaking, I should be discouraging you from using contraception. But you're facing a reality and it's called "the fifth child" and you don't want six. 

Priest at a church in Hackney

I can't find anything in the 10 commandments or the beatitudes ... where God has said, "If you dare to use a contraceptive you will be damned". 

A priest from the East End of London

Your marriage comes before birth control or no birth control. 

A priest from north London

There is no black and white any more. It's all grey. It would be hypocritical of me to stand here and say, "This is what you have got to do". 

A priest from Liverpool

Roman Catholic priests are privately advising parishioners that the use of artificial contraception is acceptable, in defiance of the Pope's view that such methods are "intrinsically evil". The English Catholic Church is under pressure from the Vatican for its liberal views. The revelation that priests have cast aside teachings on sexual ethics could cause a controversy within the church similar to the Anglican split over homosexuality.

The Sunday Times approached 14 priests at random. Eight of them in England and Scotland were willing to advise that it would not be sinful to consider using contraception. The English were more liberal than the Scots. During similar conversations in London, Liverpool, Warrington, and Manchester, the reporter was given further encouragement to follow his conscience.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who is in charge of the Vatican's family policy, has caused further controversy by suggesting that condoms do not prevent Aids. The World Health Organisation claims: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20m people and currently affects at least 42m people". See also Blogs for 10th November 2003 & 19th November 2003.

4th December 2003

The Computer Weekly revelations about the CSA's computer cock-up

It is only fair to give some publicity to Computer Weekly's articles describing the CSA's computer failures. They published more information, and earlier, than the sources in the Blog of 29th November.

This story is further evidence that the CSA is in a state of chaos. Parents and children have an even longer wait to receive the benefits they are due. The CSA has been less than frank about the extent of its problems. 

Paul Goodman MP, who sits on the Work and Pensions Select Committee

As anticipated, in addition to the automated process, there is some clerical action to be done on those cases that did not transfer successfully. For example, there is a mismatch in data between the CSA's system and the Jobcentre Plus system. 

CSA spokesman

According to these articles:

"Computer Weekly has learned that the CSA needs to complete up to 14 million tasks, many of them clerical, before all of the cases on the old system can be transferred to the new one. The tasks will take at least a year to complete, but could take much longer. The working assumption within the CSA is that the old cases will move to the new system by the next general election, which is expected in 2005 or 2006."

On its old system, the CSA was able to make payments to claimants even if there were inaccuracies or omission of data in the records. But the new system is workflow-based and requires the CSA's staff to fulfil the system's requirements before payments are processed. Usually CSA employees cannot, for example, go past step five on a form unless they have answered the question posed by the system. They can tell the system to "remind me later" but if they fail to answer the question, the system will keep showing a reminder. Normally staff cannot quit or close cases until they have answered the questions.

The agency is considering taking on more staff, or contracting out the work to cleanse records, although both ideas would be costly to execute. It is also considering phasing the transfer of records from the old to the new system, although this could lead to CSA staff being inundated by calls from parents who want explanations of why their cases have or have not been transferred to the new system. Another option would be to cut the number of cases that need to be transferred by up to third by putting "inactive" cases into abeyance. An inactive case is where, for example, claimants no longer appear to need the CSA to act as an intermediary to ensure that an absent parent pays child support.

Even if this idea were adopted, it would leave unanswered how and when the other two-thirds of cases would be transferred. A further option would be to relax stringent rules in the new system that detect anomalies, inaccuracies and incomplete data. This would make it easier to transfer cases to the new system but it could render the new database as defective as the old. Staff on the project said the CSA is considering all these options but has not decided which one to choose. It is likely that the agency will adopt more than one option. Computer Weekly was told that executives have been given a target of moving all cases to the new system by the next general election, though there is no certainty the target will be met.

5th December 2003

Paul Goodman, MP, on the attack

Paul Goodman plans to table a series of urgent written questions. He wants to know what is the loss incurred by each parent per month whose case is not transferred from the old to the new scheme, and how many anomalies, inaccuracies or incomplete data are contained in the agency’s records of the cases waiting to be transferred from the old to the new scheme.

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what targets Child Support Agency staff have for the transfer of old CSA cases to the new scheme.

Mr. Pond: There are no Public Service Agreement or Secretary of State's operational performance targets for the transfer of old cases to the new scheme. We will make a decision on the transfer of old scheme cases only once we are sure that the new scheme is working well.

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will put inactive Child Support Agency cases waiting to be transferred from the old to the new scheme into abeyance; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Pond: Plans for transferring the old scheme caseload to the new scheme have yet to be finalised.

6th December 2003

Deductions from pay, & liability orders

Some more questions & answers from Parliament.

Huw Irranca-Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

  • what guidelines are used by the Child Support Agency in dealing with cases where automatic deductions from pay have been made by an employer, but have not been passed on to the CSA; and what plans he has to review these guidelines.

Letter from Mike Isaac to Mr. Huw Irranca-Davies, dated 10 November 2003:

  • Where a deduction from earnings is made the employer is required to pay it to the Agency by, at the latest, the 19th of the month following that in which the deduction was made. The Agency will contact the employer soon after the 19th of the month if a payment is not received. While non-receipt of payment from an employer is rare we will also contact the non-resident parent and inform them that payment has not been received from their employer.

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

  1. how many liability orders were granted in the last 12 months following enforcement action by the Child Support Agency;
  2. whether priority is given by the Child Support Agency to enforcement action in cases (a) where the parent with care is in receipt of income support and other similar benefits and (b) where the parent with care is not;
  3. what the maximum acceptable timescale is for the Child Support Agency to complete an enforcement action from its commencement; what proportion of cases met these targets in 2002–03; and what procedures are in place to monitor compliance with these targets.

Letter from Mike Isaac to Bill Tynan, dated 10 November 2003:

  1. From the 1 October 2002—30 September 2003 the Agency was granted 3,169 Liability Orders by the courts in England, Scotland and Wales.
  2. Where a non-resident parent refuses to pay the assessed maintenance for their child(ren) we always consider appropriate enforcement action. For employed non-compliant parents the Agency would usually seek to implement deduction from earnings orders from their earnings. For those who are self-employed, or who have other forms of income, we have to take action through the courts. We always seek to give equal priority to those parents with care who are in receipt of benefit and to those who are not.
  3. Currently, there are no set timescales for the completion of enforcement action. The time taken varies according to the circumstances of the case, the availability of court dates, the non-attendance of the non-resident parent in court, etc. We are looking to include targets for the different processes that comprise our enforcement action next year.

7th December 2003

Prosecutions for "information offences" by parents

This was the position in late October.

Bob Russell (Colchester):

How many prosecutions have been made in the past year against parents making false statements to the Child Support Agency.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond):

Fourteen people have been prosecuted under the Child Support Act 1991 for making false statements, and 163 have been prosecuted and convicted for failure to provide information, 16 in the past month alone.

8th December 2003

Ex CSA employees setting up CSA advice businesses

Harry Cohen:

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what reports he has received of former Child Support Agency employees setting up businesses specialising in CSA cases; what assessment he has made of the implications of these businesses for the administration of the CSA; and if he will make a statement.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Harry Cohen, dated 17 July 2003:

I am aware of a number of bodies who offer a variety of services about child support, for example through internet sites ranging from shared experience to claiming to be able to influence maintenance assessments. I am also aware that some of the bodies attempt to validate their service by claiming to be ex-employees of the Child Support Agency. Where the advice offered is constructive and accurate I welcome its availability. When staff leave the Agency they are reminded of their responsibilities to keep confidential personal information gained during their service.

9th December 2003

Is "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy" rubbish?

This web site is about child support, not cot deaths. But an important theme here is the importance of biological relationships between parents & children. (Hence the emphasis here on the importance of paternity tests to establish those relationships).

Sir Roy had made a fundamental mathematical error. 

Dr Stephen Watkins, Director of Public Health at Stockport Health Authority

... there was no statistical basis for the figure. 

Royal Statistical Society

As shown on BBC1 on 8th December, parents can have their children taken away from them, and put into adoption, as a result of diagnosis of "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy", a disputed theory of Sir Roy Meadow. The biological link becomes broken. If unjustified, this may have a devastating effect on both the parents & children for the rest of their lives.

Sir Roy Meadow is quoted as saying "the likelihood of two siblings dying of "cot death syndrome" were one in 73 million". If he actually said that, he is clearly incompetent at statistics. Expert statisticians, and indeed lots of competent mathematicians, were taken aback by those spurious claims in court. Sally Clark was released partly because those misused statistics could not be evidence for her guilt, and there was little or nothing else.

He has also been quoted as using arguments such as "if she says she is not guilty, that is what all such people say, so it is further evidence that she is guilty". If he did make claims along those lines, he is himself guilty of appalling lack of critical thinking. That would be a statement that is designed to be irrefutable - and therefore absolutely unscientific and irrelevant! No statement of the form "you are damned if you do and damned if you don't" has any value whatsoever. It is simply an insight into the mind of a prejudiced person. It is obviously unjust in law. A proclamation of innocence cannot justly be used as evidence of guilt. What could a truly innocent person say?

To repeat - the only reason for discussing this here is to draw similarities between various uses of unproved claims to separate parents from children. They are all wrong.

10th December 2003

Tax credits for PWCs and NRPs in the formula - a non-answer!

Mr. Bill O'Brien:

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the reasons for

  1. taking into consideration tax credit payments for absent parents and
  2. not taking into consideration tax credit payments to the parents with care when assessing maintenance payments through the Child Support Agency.

Mr. Pond:

The Government has sought, as far as possible, for the rules providing for the treatment of tax credits in child support to be consistent, simple to understand and to operate fairly for

  1. non-resident parents
  2. parents with care.

The arrangements carried forward into the new child support scheme in relation to new tax credits continue the principles first introduced under Family Credit.

11th December 2003

Surveys on "misattributed paternity". ("Whoops, you are not my daddy")

Actual figures range from 1 percent in high-status areas of the United States and Switzerland, to 5 to 6 percent for moderate-status males in the United States and Great Britain, to 10 to 30 percent for lower-status males in the United States, Great Britain and France. 

Robin Baker ("Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex")

The overall exclusion rate for 1999 was 28.2% for accredited labs. Exclusion rates for non-accredited US and foreign labs were slightly less at 22.7% and 20.6% respectively. 

American Association of Blood Banks, 2001

This topic is related to paternity testing, which is obviously related to child support.

There have been many surveys of various kinds since 1957 that show that significant numbers of men are not the fathers of children they thought were theirs. The UK's child support agency is actually one of the more enlightened CSAs in the world for paternity testing. But there are people in the UK who would rather prevent men from finding out if they are the fathers of "their" children. Some people believe that biology should not determine who pays child support.

If a man who is not the biological father is willing to have full rights & responsibilities for a child, he can adopt. If he doesn't adopt, then it is fair to assume by default that he doesn't want those rights & responsibilities. It is wrong to make a man responsible for a child if he neither contributed his genes nor signed the adoption papers. But, of course, there are those who simply want to find "the nearest man with a wallet". Those attitudes are not about "fathering" or "parenting", they are simply about money! That is the driving force behind the "presumed parenthood" laws across much of the world.

We must never sink to the level of discouraging men from helping to bring up the children of their partners because if they do so they may become liable for child support later. Instead, we must focus on "who helped to create this child?" And it would help if wives & female partners stopped having children of men other than their husbands & partners!

12th December 2003

Children's rights "to know who daddy is"

... the Committee recommends the State party [the UK] to undertake all necessary measures to allow all children irrespective of the circumstances of their birth or adoptive children to obtain information on the identity of their parents as far as possible. 

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

If [the child] grows up knowing the truth, that will not undermine his attachment to his father figure, and he will cope with knowing he has two fathers. Better than a time bomb ticking away. 

Appeal court judge, Lord Justice Ward

This is a follow-up to yesterday's Blog on the frequency of misattributed paternity. That Blog (and other material here) made the case for men to know the truth about their biological relationships to children.

Now there is a page on this website that provides a brief survey of the laws and conventions that should enable children to discover the identity of their parents. Increasingly UK courts appear to be adopting principles such as "it is better for the child to learn sooner rather than later"; and "it is better for a child to learn by paternity test rather than live with rumours".

This attitude can only increase as the knowledge of biological relationships becomes more important, and more likely to be revealed, for health reasons. Genetic influences on health are becoming better known all the time.

13th December 2003

Parliamentary Committee to examine the CSA reforms & IT projects

These are extracts from the announcement by the Select Committee of the Department for Work and Pensions, which includes the child support agency.

The sub-Committee of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee announces the start of an inquiry "to examine the DWP's management of information technology (IT) projects"....

The subcommittee has decided initially to focus on elements of best practice, followed by a detailed investigation into one IT project. The subcommittee will focus on the work of DWP and its agencies, but would also be interested in drawing comparisons with IT projects elsewhere....

The subcommittee will then look closely at the Child Support Agency reforms. In addition to the issues outlined above, the inquiry is expected to examine closely CSA’s relationships with IT suppliers, staff, and customers....

The Committee expects to hold oral evidence sessions after the Christmas recess. Written submissions on best practice in general and the CSA reforms specifically should be submitted, in accordance with the guidelines on the back of this notice, by 31 December 2003 at the latest.


14th December 2003

Compulsory pregnancy in Italy? With triplets?

A new law in Italy makes implantation compulsory after a woman's eggs have been fertilised in-vitro, even if both man and woman have changed their minds!

The bill .... limits to three the number of eggs that doctors may gathered and fertilised. And it requires that all three be implanted in the prospective mother's womb. The woman cannot refuse implantation once the eggs are fertilised. 

John Hooper, reporting in the Guardian

This law ... recognises that an embryo is a person and as such must be protected from the point of conception. 

Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, Forza Italia party

... it would also increase the number of triple pregnancies, and thus the percentage of cerebrally handicapped babies. 

Marco Pannella, Radical party

If every fertilised egg was indeed a soul, that is, an immortal spiritual reality created independently of the biological process, then, according to these figures, three quarters of heaven would be populated by souls that lived for less than a week. This does not seem congruous with what we know of a God who has chosen to create persons through a process of development. 

Bishop of Oxford, quoted in a House of Commons debate (see below)

The mind boggles! If the woman doesn't want to continue, is she arrested, tied down, and impregnated against her will? Some news defies belief. Until you realise that religion is involved.

Quoting from the Guardian article below:

The Italian senate this week approved a much-needed but intensely controversial piece of legislation.... it is exceptionally difficult to get anything of complexity onto Italy's statute book. One effect of this has been that, as genetic science has burst into vast new terrain, Italy has gone without any sort of law on reproductive rights.

... while Italy has less restrictions on genetic experimentation than anywhere in the world, Italians, with Roman Catholicism imprinted in their DNA, are for the most part deeply conservative in their approach to bio-ethical issues. Few of Italy's legislators disputed the need for a law of some kind. But a lot were uneasy with the details of the one framed by Silvio Berlusconi's right-of-centre government and rammed through the senate this week by means of a "take-it-or-leave-it" procedural device....

The bill, which now only needs to be rubber-stamped by the lower house, won a healthy 162-92 majority in the senate, thanks to rebel, Roman Catholic opposition legislators who voted with the government.

In the UK, after in-vitro fertilisation, the permission of both man and woman is needed before the fertilised embryos can be implanted to make the woman pregnant. This was discussed in Blogs here on 3rd October and 14th November. Somewhat more plausible.

16th December 2003

Extra legislation published by government & identified here

The main content of this web site continues to be evolved. This site isn't just a weblog that records the latest news.

For example, new Statutory Instruments (SIs) continue to be issued by the government, to give the CSA extra powers, or change details. The "legislation" pages on this site are often updated. The latest SI appears to be intended to give the CSA extra powers to check the accuracy of information they already have for the old system. (Perhaps this is to help get data clean ready for transition to the new scheme?)

Other updates to this site continue during each month. (Over the next month or two, a number of external links will be updated. These tend to get out of date as the government, news sites, & other organisations change their web sites. With between 500 and 1000 external links, it is tricky to make sure they all work, and I rely on help from people who want to see this web site continue to be useful. Thanks to those people - they know who they are).

Some pages that have been updated recently are:

18th December 2003

Latest CSA statistics published

These are the statistics up to (and including) August 2003. They are in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.

(A free spreadsheet reader can be downloaded from one of the pages identified below).

I'll analyse these statistics and publish anything interesting here when there is time.

19th December 2003

Government shifts the goal-posts in its target to eliminate child poverty

The government had said that it would eliminate all child poverty by 2020. At the time they said this, poverty was defined as "less than 60% of median household income".

Now the government has redefined what poverty means. This may enable them to meet the target. They would not have met the target with the original definition.

Is this a box of fudge? Have they now realised that they bit off more than they could chew, so they are moving the goal posts? (And mixing lots of other metaphors at the same time?)

Yes. But the truth is that knowledgeable people always knew that the original target was impossible! There was never a possibility that it could be met. It was simple a silly, but newsworthy, stunt. Defining poverty according to some sort of average has a curious consequence. In a depression, where everyone becomes poor, poverty, according to this definition, gets less! If everyone earned only £10 per week, there would be no one in poverty, according to that definition! But as a country gets better off, and people have lots of opportunities, then some will earn lots more than others. So more people live below 60% of any average.

The Independent (see article below) says that the government has abandoned a key pledge. Perhaps they have indeed moved goal posts to where they can shoot. What they should have done was sorted out what they were promising before they promised it. They may now have a good target, but they have exposed themselves to just criticism while getting there.

20th December 2003

Child Maintenance Premium & Jobcentre Plus

A couple of items from Parliament that mention the relationship between the CSA and Jobcentre Plus.

Mr. Djanogly:

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the inter-relationship between the Child Support Agency and the benefits system.

Mr. Pond:

The Child Support Agency and Jobcentre Plus work closely together to provide customers with the best possible service.

Jobcentre Plus staff gather information on behalf of the Child Support Agency to ascertain either the details of the non-resident parent or the reasons why a parent with care on benefit does not wish to apply for child support. In the latter case, Jobcentre Plus staff also decide whether she has good cause.

Jobcentre Plus also collect maintenance by making deductions from non-resident parents' benefit payments.

Mr. Goodman:


To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what administrative reasons might prevent parents with care from receiving the child maintenance premium.

Mr. Pond:

The child maintenance premium is a key feature of the new child support scheme. It relies on links with Jobcentre Plus IT systems to match up individuals on benefit with payments received. The new IT system is designed to do this and by the end of November 7,500 of the poorest families were already benefiting from the new premium. However to apply the premium to old scheme cases would require redesigning and rebuilding both the new and old IT systems.

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