The government are making 100,000 families worse off – anyone surprised?

Anyone surprised that the government’s changes to the Child Support Agency are going to make 100,000 families worse off? Anyone?

The Government is, quite openly, trying to discourage families from using the CSA. All cases will be closed from 2014, unless the resident parent pays a £20 upfront fee (argued down from £100 after relentless campaigning by Gingerbread) and between 7% and 12% of any maintenance they receive.

The upside, for resident parents, is that they will see an increase in the minimum payment the non-resident parent is expected to pay them – from £5 to £10 a week. The downside is that if you can’t afford to use the CSA, this minimum doesn’t apply. And a whole lot of families won’t be able to afford the CSA.

The plan here is that families will ‘make their own arrangements’, i.e. arrange maintenance payments either through those regular friendly chats of mutual agreement and respect that recently separated couples are so famous for, or through the straightforward and inexpensive mechanisms of the family courts.

It reminds me a little of the government’s insistence that people who will be unable to afford legal help when the Legal Aid Act comes into force in April should instead use the ‘mediation’ route to resolve disputes – as though bailiffs demanding money, landlords trying illegally to evict their tenants and the DWP themselves refusing a DLA claim are all people who will be happy to sit down to negotiation.

While it’s tempting to separate out the dual reasoning behind these and so many of the Government’s proposals – 1. the need to cut the deficit and 2. the ideological belief that people should do things for themselves, ‘make their own arrangements’ as it’s usually put when talking about the CSA rather than relying on the state – I believe they’re inextricably connected. Because ‘making your own arrangements’ is a polite way of saying ‘do something that costs a lot of money’. Kids in college are advised to make their own travel arrangements, rather than claim EMA; parents whose ex-partners won’t pay to help keep their children alive are to make their own arrangements rather than expect any help.

It’s the kind of thing that can play moderately well with people who aren’t affected by it. Why, after all, should I have to pay, through taxation, because someone else doesn’t want to pay to support their own children?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many answers to that kind of question apart from ‘what else?’ It’s the kind of thing that’s never going to make any sense to you unless you believe there’s such a thing as society. David Cameron famously said ‘there is such a thing as society – it’s just not the same as the state’. And that’s what the Big Society is meant to be – a sort of national programme of making your own arrangements.

The Government are unlikely to go so far as to openly suggest everyone makes our own arrangements for healthcare (private insurance, or perhaps homeopathy), the fire service (keep a bucket of water handy) or policing (Batman). But what they’re never going to understand is that, for many single parents, asking them to find extra cash for the privilege of chasing down their co-parent is no less ludicrous.

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