As last week’s parliamentary report on child support reform makes clear, there is a worrying lack of detail in the current white paper on this issue. But at least the government has admitted what lone parents have known for a long time: that the existing scheme does not work and that the performance of the Child Support Agency has been abysmal.
The report, from the work and pensions select committee, is right to highlight key tensions between the principles and practicalities of child support reform.
And we share the concern that the proposed new emphasis on encouraging private maintenance arrangements has not been properly thought through. There is a lack of practical proposals in the white paper for essential advice and guidance services needed to underpin such a fundamental shift in policy.
There must be a clear message for lone parents that C-MEC, which will succeed the CSA, supports their right to adequate maintenance and will intervene on their behalf to collect child maintenance if necessary.
The committee is right to identify a tension between the government’s key priority for child support reform, which is reduction of child poverty, and the decision to delay until 2010 any increase in the £10 child maintenance disregard. Increasing this disregard could help to lift more children out of poverty by allowing more of any money paid by the nonresident parent to go to the child.
Lone parents need an efficient government-run child support service which will back them if they need it. The committee is right to sound a warning on the dangers of C-MEC having to run three child support systems side by side, and to voice its lack of confidence at this stage about future plans for C-MEC’s IT system.
If the reformed child support scheme is to succeed, the government will need to take careful note of the select committee’s concerns.
Chris Pond is chief executive of charity One Parent Families