Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. Much of the anxiety expressed around shared care from other witnesses has been the desire to disentangle the maintenance payments from issues of contact, access, care, etc. Your proposals would link them very closely, would they not? Is there not a danger that might actually increase the stress between parents?
  (Mr Parton) I must say I do not think it does link them any more closely, it is just working on the principles that are there already, we are just applying the percentage rate equally between both parents. I do not think it is linking contact with the money but what it is doing is recognising that children do cost money, we concede that is what this is about perhaps, but they cost money equally to both parents when they are caring for the children and that has to be recognised.

  321. One final question linked to that. Mr Farquarson in his evidence said that they have a slight anxiety, they favour the shared care proposals in the White Paper but they have an anxiety that this might encourage parents with care to resist extra sharing of care because they lose money. That obviously runs counter to your organisation's objectives. Is that a risk you are willing to take, that it would be increased from your proposals?
  (Mr Pearson) First of all, I do not belong to Families Need Fathers, I am an independent view here. Perhaps I only represent taxpayers, I do not know. We have done some work based on this particular formula for a fairer shared care proposal. What happens when we look at the details is that, in fact, as the non-resident parent takes over more and more care of the child and the formula reduces, with this particular approach if the original 15 per cent was a good number in the first place then the PWC does not get worse off by losing the care of the child, the amount of money that the child support is reduced by matches the reduction in the direct spend of the PWC. As Karen said, it is in the detail and that is why we tried these diagrams here because otherwise you are going to glaze over with the mathematical formulae. When we look at it what we find is that if the 15 per cent is the right amount then it actually becomes cost neutral whether a parent cares or pays someone else to care. If the 15 per cent is perhaps too low and the children actually cost more than the 15 per cent then, in fact, the PWC becomes better off when the NRP takes the child away.

  322. Except for the fixed cost element. That is true of the variable cost but the fixed cost element, which could be considerable, obviously they will not be saving that.
  (Ms Randall) That is the same for both of course. If the mother has a child for four nights a week, the bedroom is sitting empty for three nights and if the father has the child for three nights a week, the bedroom is sitting empty for four nights. The fixed costs are the same for both and do not reduce by that amount.

  323. Do you see what I am saying about your calculations, that if, say, a third of the total costs of the child are fixed, and I have no idea if that is true, but let's say it is a third of that, then in fact the savings which are being made by the child spending more time with the other parent are less than the losses from the reduction in maintenance payments?
  (Ms Randall) I think it is not just about saving money, but it is about the money actually following the child and being seen to follow the child. The alternative is that if we do not have a fair shared care formula, it will be financially advantageous for fathers to abandon their children and not maintain contact with them. We cannot see that that is in the interests of children, but we see that shared parenting is in the interests of children and we see that the child support proposals in the White Paper are probably the single largest social policy issue that will impact on shared parenting and we are trying to look to the future. Shared parenting is actually increasing and will continue to increase and I think we need to address this now, not look back in five years' time and say, "Whoops! We got it a bit wrong", but there were not that many shared cases at the time and so had said, "Let's try and address it later".

  324. I am not arguing with you about the fair division of costs or the proposal to encourage shared parenting. I am just wanting to be clear that your proposals would not act as a barrier to that move towards extra shared parenting because the parent with care would have the incentive perhaps to resist that.
  (Ms Randall) I think the other answer is that that is a matter for the courts and where contact has been ordered and it has been denied, that is dealt with by the courts at the moment and should continue to be dealt with by the courts.
  (Mr Pearson) I feel myself that one of the problems that has occurred with the Child Support Agency is that it appeared to have too many objectives and it was not just about child support, but it was also about repaying the Treasury for benefits and things like that. It appeared to have too many objectives which conflicted with one another and caused a lot of anger. A new child support system, if it focuses on child support and the many child needs, it may stand a chance of succeeding. What concerns me is if it turns into a system to impose a bribe on the PWC to let the NRP have access to the children or something like that. It is starting to get too many objectives and it will fail to succeed on any of those objectives.


  325. Can I turn now to the question of sanctions. Do you have any views about sanctions, people having their passports and their driving licences and indeed their pocket money seized? Do you have a view about that?
  (Mr Parton) If the Government willy-nilly ploughs ahead with the proposals, there is no question that prison does work. It is used often in the family courts, far more often probably than any of you realise. I can think of several of our members who have been in contempt of court over an antique chest of drawers, as one guy I know, and there was another one who attempted to see his children by standing on their route to school and waving to them, which was one reason why he was sentenced, and he was sent down for six months, and another one broke an order by sending a letter and he was sent down for eleven months, so these sanctions exist and I think that they unquestionably work, but they are draconian and I do not think there is any place for prison in families, or at least only very rarely and there does not seem to be, for example, a community service option. If you do plough ahead with the White Paper as proposed, then you probably could make it work by carrying out the threat to put people in prison and take away their driving licences. I have to say that I thought that when the White Paper was announced, "the hanging is too good" sort of rhetoric was utterly lamentable, very regrettable I think and the dad-bashing here has to end.

  326. Do you have any figures as to how many people have actually gone to prison and actually served sentences?
  (Mr Parton) No, I have not.

  327. You seem to be suggesting that it was a direct result of some child maintenance questions which have gone to court because of—
  (Mr Parton) It can be chattels and it can be contact. There is a readiness in the family courts to use the final sanction of prison on fathers. There is not the same readiness for mothers, but actually I think it is wrong for both fathers and mothers and I think we should be getting away from that if we are a compassionate society. To me, there is nothing I can see positive about that.

  328. But prison cares for families!
  (Mr Parton) You can imagine that a number of our members are in prison and we have people writing to us from prison saying, "I want to see my little Johnny. What can I do about it?", so it is a serious issue.
  (Ms Randall) Yes, any system will need sanctions. The system has them at the moment. There are quite wide-ranging sanctions, including the option of prison at the moment, as we heard from Nicholas Mostyn. It is not used very much. I think the point is to get a system which is fair, which would, therefore, be acceptable and which, therefore, would be complied with. Sanctions are a later resort and they should not be the first resort, but yes, any system will need sanctions to back it up and we accept that.
  (Mr Pearson) I have got a comment and that is that if the formula was clearly a fair one as far as the general public is concerned, there might be a chance that not paying your child support would become socially unacceptable, like drink-driving or something like that. While there is this focused resentment because there are clear faults in the formula and as a result of that there is always news that says, "Look, there is something wrong here. Perhaps the Government has got to change it", then it will never become socially unacceptable not to obey this Agency. That is just a view I have got, although I have no evidence to back that up.

  329. Do I understand you to mean that if you reduce the 15/20/25 to 7/10/12, it would get to a level where people could not with any degree of credibility say that they were not paying it?
  (Mr Parton) We are not arguing about the percentage.

  330. You are not?
  (Mr Parton) No.
  (Ms Randall) Our evidence is centred almost entirely around the shared care formula, that that has to be got right, that we cannot have an outcome that actually penalises fathers who care most for their children by making them pay more to do that and actually rewarding them for abandoning their children and never seeing them.
  (Mr Parton) You will see this very clearly in our case study 4,[13] I think.

  331. Indeed some of the submission is very detailed, but very, very useful and we will be able to draw on that.
  (Mr Parton) You can see exactly why parents might even collude to defraud the CSA.
  (Mr Pearson) There is an example here where when the non-resident parent decides, "I have had enough. I am not going to look after my children because we are not getting enough money in", at that point the non-resident parent becomes £43 a week better off and the taxpayer becomes £36.95 worse off, so the taxpayer in that particular case, because it involves child care credits and so on, in effect is bribing the non-resident parent not to care for the children.
  (Mr Parton) To abandon his responsibilities.
  (Mr Pearson) It is astonishing the way these systems interact that push things the wrong way.

Mr Leigh

  332. I think my aim is like yours; I would like to see a system which provides a clear financial advantage to fathers who want to share the care of their children and I am with you on that. I thought that the Government's plans as outlined were making progress towards that, and inadequate progress I am sure you would agree, but some progress. Now, as I understand it, you are saying that the one-seventh deduction per night for shared care is necessary because—and, by the way, this constant referring to "PWC" and "NRP", we understand it, but I am not sure that it is entirely helpful in getting your message across because acronyms never are—but the parent with care does not have the—
  (Mr Parton) We are trying to be PC.

  333. Well, please do not be PC, especially with me! In addition, however, the PWC, just to use your language, must be assessed at 15 per cent of income contributing costs to the NRP. I think I understand all that. It would be lovely if the Government would agree to that. The trouble is presumably they will not because the Government will say that the parent with care simply cannot afford these sorts of deductions. Will the Government not say that?
  (Mr Pearson) The answer is that simply because of the way the formula works what we are saying is that while the PWC or the mother, shall we say mother?

  334. Let us say mother.
  (Mr Pearson) Seven per cent of the time I think it is the father but let us say mother. That person would be responsible, according to the 15/20/25 rule, for the time that the mother is the absent parent. If the mother is on benefits that is zero. If the mother is on very low income, say £100, then it would not even be a proportion of £5 a week, it disappears. It just does not cut in as a significant number until the parent with care starts to earn a significant amount of money. It might do if you start taking the parent with care's low income, add the Working Families Tax Credit and so on, but it just does not cut in until the parent with care earns a significant amount of money and that is when it starts to have an effect. Once you get to an equal earning point and an equal sharing point there is no net liability either way unlike the White Paper proposal where if the parent with care and the non-resident parent, so-called for some reason, shared care equally the one not claiming child benefit ends up paying nearly half the amount that he would pay if he never saw the child for some bizarre reason.

  335. You are an expert in all this, it is very easy for you to understand it but for us mere mortals who are not tax experts it is a tiny bit confusing. If your idea is such a good one, and from what you tell us it is, what has been the Government's response to it so far?
  (Ms Randall) We have not put it to the Government. We put a different proposal to them initially and that was to reduce it by two-sevenths for each night of shared care and they rejected that. We have now gone back and we have tried to define a fairer system. We think this is a fairer system because it takes the Government's own principle, which is that the non-resident parent should contribute 15 per cent of their net income, and it just applies that to both parents in shared care cases. So it is taking their figure and applying it equally to both parents but only in shared care cases. We are talking about 25 per cent of cases at the moment. It is also fairer than what we originally proposed which was a two-sevenths reduction because the two-sevenths reduction ignored the fact that women tend to earn 20 per cent less than men. This actually acknowledges the fact that women tend to earn 20 per cent less than men and they will, therefore, be assessed at that. Fifteen per cent of their income will be of their actual income and this recognises that fact. We do think this is a fairer system. We have not had the Government's response to it but we very much hope that they will look at it.

  336. If we were to introduce your system you are arguing that there would not be any increased costs to the taxpayer, that there would be a clear incentive to the father to spend more time with his children and in most cases the mother would not be any worse off. Is that what you are saying?
  (Ms Randall) Yes.
  (Mr Pearson) There are cases where it is an extra benefit saving and that is the case where the parent with care earns a significant amount and it is the non-resident parent on benefits, in which case there is actually a flow the other way, well off parents with care will not get as much and will end up not as well off under this scheme.

  337. Under your scheme?
  (Mr Pearson) Under this scheme. They will not get all this money moving towards them, they will have to take some extra financial responsibility themselves.

  338. How much better off must you be? I am starting to get worried about my own voters now.
  (Mr Pearson) I do not know who your voters are.
  (Mr Parton) Wealthy divorce«s.
  (Ms Randall) For example, on our case study number three[14] where the parent with care has a net income of £300 and the non-resident parent has no income at all and she has four nights of shared care and he only has three, on the Government's system she would spend from her own income £30.60 out of £300 and from zero income, he is on benefit, he would be left with £31.40 out of his Jobseeker's Allowance to look after his child for three nights a week in shared care. If we applied our system to that his retained income would go up to £41.84 and her retained income would come down to £250 instead of £270. It is not as punitive on the parent with care as one might think, it actually still tips the balance in their favour.

  339. Thank you.
  (Mr Pearson) I would like to make another point here and that is this is not a scheme that has never been tried around the world, it is actually the shared care formula that operates in several countries in the world.

13   See Ev p. 123-4. Back

14   See Ev p. 122. Back

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