By Lance Idiabor-Moses
I was shocked to hear of the current government plans of charging single parents to use the Child Support Agency (CSA).
The argument is that charging single parents £100 to use the service will encourage parents to come to their own agreements on child maintenance without the third party getting involved.
In an ideal world this would work. In fact, no, I will correct myself: in an ideal world, we would not even be discussing this!
Hmmmm… I understand the principle behind this. After thinking about it, and avoiding a reactionary opinion, I agree with it. It is about reducing a ‘nanny state’ and promoting that core principle of liberalism: the one that states ‘government does not know best’.
But is this the best way to go about it? I am not sure if the government have thought this through?
The rebellion on this one in the Lords was even lead by Tories: that my Liberal friends, is saying something.
The government says the CSA system is broken. It is broken because for years it has been a weak, incompetent agency that simply does not work and that government after government has failed to reform it. Our system looks weak up against the USA’s equivalent. Reform the Agency.
I have come across cases in which the absent or parent not in full custody of said child/children has lied to the CSA claiming they are not in work. Have I missed something here? Do government departments not communicate with each other to find out whether tax is being paid or if a person is in work? I’ve come across other cases in which a parent is being penalised and told they are being taken to court for not paying the set amount, yet the CSA have constantly changed the amount owed and have no idea how much really is owed. It seems odd to take somebody to court on the basis of money being owed but not knowing how much a person owes, right? Time after time I hear complaints and anecdotes pointing towards how incompetent the agency is. There is obviously a communication problem within government departments. I feel this also points to wide scale bureaucracy within the departments that the government desperately needs to get a grip of. But that is an issue for another time.
Instead of penalising single parents, who have to deal with this usually through no fault of their own, why not place some funding into charities who specialise in mediation? This would obviously save the treasury some money, and would also reduce the state’s role into private family matters, especially for parents who are able to come to agreements.
Good Idea I’d say. But we haven’t considered something: domestic abuse.
If the case arises that the woman has divorced a man, and the relationship was an abusive one, the primary reason she is no longer in this relationship is to protect her children. This is not an assertion, this is truth. Mothers** in this situation would do anything, sacrifice anything, to keep their children safe. It doesn’t even matter of the income or wealth of a person. Domestic abuse happens at all levels of society. It is about the children and their safety and security. By forcing parents to pay, we create a system in which many single parent families will fall and hit the ground without a safety net that considers the sort of situation I talked of above. This is about the protection of children.
What needs to happen, on all forms of welfare as part of the reforms, is we need to begin looking at cases on an individual, case by case basis, and the powers to deal with this need to be given completely to local government (decentralisation: another liberal principle). A case-by-case basis means you can properly and thoroughly consider a person or family situation.
I agree that the welfare bill MUST be reduced and I believe civil society / charities, that are at ground level, who understand the situations that single parents face are, on a whole, much better equipped to deal with such issues. In contrast to the state, who on this issue have proved to be too far removed. So, if the government wants to encourage parents to come to their own agreements on child maintenance without the state getting involved, a case by case, decentralised approach that works closely with charities is the best way, without negatively affecting the lives of thousands of children. This in turn will reduce state spending and definitely promote that liberal principle that government does not know best. As liberals, we need to be encouraging a stronger partnership between the government and charities on Child Support.
**I deliberately discriminate here. I know that this happens to fathers too, but as I said, as it is much, much more likely to be the case of mothers having to escape with children.