Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 60-65)

TUESDAY 14 SEPTEMBER 1999

PROFESSOR GWYNN DAVIS and PROFESSOR NICK WIKELEY

  60. But still pretty brutal in its lack of—
  (Professor Davis) In its lack of fine tuning, yes.

  61. You are happy with that, are you?
  (Professor Davis) Either that or you effectively abandon the attempt to gather payments from—absent parents in these cases.

  Mr Leigh: That is very fair.

Chairman

  62. You studied 123 cases in some depth in the course of writing the book. There is an implicit assumption within the proposals of the White Paper that it is not a question that the money is not there in the families who are reluctant to pay, it is just a question of getting the administrative fix that is sufficiently fair, and then everything will be all right. Would you be able to assess at all whether there is a "Can pay, won't pay" attitude? Is there a crock of gold out there that people are just not paying because they are being cussed, or did you get the impression, of the cases that you studied, that there really was financial distress and that it was difficult for the families to respond to, even if all the other administrative machinery was put right?
  (Professor Davis) I think there is both. I think there is evidence of real financial distress in some cases, and it is a worry for us all that if this system does not work effectively, particularly where there are serial relationships and serial responsibilities—taking on new responsibilities for children and, at the same time, being expected to pay for children of a former relationship—and if the money is not coming into the new family as it should from the father of step-children, one can imagine a number of situations, and we observed them, where there is real hardship and real unfairness. At the same time, there is also an element of walking away. That walking away can be justified—and is justified because people, on the whole, do not say "I am a moral idiot". They justify it, and they justify it in terms of actions taken in the relationship, they justify it in terms of their new responsibilities and they justify it in terms of the existence of state support. That is a consideration that they weigh, and that is one reason why the premium, or disregard, is going to be, we think, very important, or very interesting for social scientists to monitor, but probably important.

  63. Finally, you came to the conclusion, I think, from memory, that the Inland Revenue would be a better machinery anyway.
  (Professor Davis) May be.

  64. Would you like to say a word about that?
  (Professor Wikeley) What we actually said in our conclusion was that it was something that was worthy of consideration. Having said that, the developments over the last two years suggest to me that it is now more worthy of consideration. The fact that the Inland Revenue has taken over the Contributions Agency and it now, of course, is taking over Working Families Tax Credit, or Family Credit as was, means, it seems to me, there is going to be a fundamental change in the nature and the relationship between the Revenue and its customers. Previously, of course, the job of the Revenue was simply getting money out of people and, frankly, it did not deal with people on low incomes. Those were always two of the major objections to putting the CSA within the Revenue. Now, of course, there are other reasons why you should not put the CSA there, or might not wish to put the CSA there, but given that Working Families Tax Credit will mean that the Inland Revenue will be dealing with people who are non-taxpayers and will be giving people money, it seems to me that it is right to reconsider, not least given the Government's other projects in terms of a Child Tax Allowance and so forth. If you want an integrated child support system the CSA, within the DSS, may end up looking as though it has been on a limb in five or ten years' time.

  65. Gentlemen, I am sure we could continue this discussion all afternoon, but, again, constraints of time are weighing heavily upon us. Can I thank you very much? The book you have written and the submissions you have made have been very, very useful to further our work in this inquiry, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to come here to give oral evidence in support of that. Thank you very much for coming.
  (Professor Wikeley) Thank you.

  Chairman: The public session is temporarily suspended.


 
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