The END of the DEBATE

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John Ward

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Apr 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/29/98
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The first really silly thing I did this year (one month ago) was to start a
series of debates around topics of concern to the Government, by starting some
threads on this newsgroup. (These threads had "DEBATE" in the title).

The second really silly thing was to print out the subsequent posts and go
through them with a highlighter to see if I could spot nuggets. (The pile of
paper is exactly 2 centimetres thick! If I perforate it I'll be able to use it
at my own convenience).

The third really silly thing was to attempt to build a file of the conclusions,
good ideas, things that might be taken to Government, etc. (I'll post this file
next. Unfortunately, I just KNOW that some of you won't be able to resist
restarting discussions).

Going to this trouble gives me the right to make some telling, rude, or even
insulting, statements, based on this material. (I'll also post some thoughts
about this).

I've been weighed down for some time by a feeling of "unfinished business",
because I started those threads. Once I've posted these responses I'll be able
to relax a bit.


John Ward


John Ward

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Apr 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/29/98
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This attempts to identify key themes and conclusions from the DEBATE threads
started late in march.

They are in a form which could probably be edited and shown to MPs, etc, to
help influence the Green Paper in June (or whenever). (If YOU don't do this,
who else is going to?)

I couldn't possibly take everyone's views into account (even assuming that my
news-server received their posts, which isn't always true). There were getting
on for 100 posts, some complicated, off-topic, even incoherent. There was
massive lack of consensus. Therefore, I have allowed my own prejudices to creep
in. (If you object - sue me!)

----------
ELIMINATING THE CATEGORIES OF PARENT

The concepts "Parent/Person With Care" (or "Resident Parent", or whatever) and
"Absent Parent" (or "Non Resident Parent", or whatever) simply do NOT exist as
two simple categories in our society. They are figments/fantasies of someone
trying to write simple rules to be imposed on a different and more complicated
world. They can lead, and HAVE LED, to massive injustices. They can't help but
lead to fudges in order to cater for reality.

We have all cases from parents with 0% to 100% caring time, including some near
the middle. (Both fathers and mothers can and do occupy any position on the
spectrum). It is clearly completely potty for someone who cares for a child for
183 days (or nights, or whatever) to be significantly different in any way from
someone who cares for 182 days/nights. How can the difference be worth more
than a few pounds? Why is 3 nights a week sometimes called "contact", while 4
nights a week may be called "residence"?

Legislation should avoid any polarisation of parents in this way. Instead, we
should focus on sharing of care, and reward it, and not push people into
undesirable and self-fulfilling categories.

----------
ACCESS & MAINTENANCE

If we assume (Labour Party mantra) that a child should have the financial and
emotional support of both parents, wherever they live, then a suitable basic
rule should be:

On any day/night, a parent either cares for a child or pays someone else to.
(It is not clear whether "day" or "night" should be the criteria - there are
arguments both ways).

Payment is not a bribe to obtain access, it is a payment because of lack
(deliberate or not) of care.

Where access has been decided by any means such as a court, it should not be to
the financial benefit of a parent to deny the other access. (For example, a
parent who should have access for X days per year should not have to pay
maintenance for more than 365 minus X days to someone who breaks the rules, and
the taxpayer should not make up the difference).

Qualifier: where one parent can't pay (no income) THEN the other parent should
pay before falling back on the taxpayer.

There needs to be some way of linking access to maintenance. The current
situation doesn't persuade parents to behave reasonably, and can't be in the
best interests of the child. These shouldn't remain totally separate topics.

----------
TAPERS, STEPS, TRAPS

There MUST be no steps & traps at various points such as 103/104 days/nights,
or 182/183 days/nights. (How can someone who has cared for 103 days/nights
sensibly be judged to be significantly different from someone who has cared for
104 days/nights? How can it be worth more than a few pounds?)

Each step of this form is an invitation for someone to behave badly - play the
system, blackmail the other, commit fraud - either alone or in collusion, etc.
It can't be in the interest of the child for parents to be calculating "it
makes sense for my ex to look after Fred tomorrow, but that will give my ex
more than 182 nights per year so I'll pick up Fred and drive him back
overnight".

It is very well known in the field of Social Security that steps like this
cause traps which lead to bad behaviour and terrible consequences. There is no
excuse for perpetuating this for child support.

----------
SELF-ASSESSMENT, PAY & FILE

Many parents want to cooperate with a maintenance scheme, and it should be as
easy as possible to do so. Preferably they should not be dependent on a
Government agency to behave reasonably. (Surely we have to achieve a society
where behaving reasonably is something that people can do without help from the
Government?)

(Equally, some people do not want to cooperate, even with a reasonable scheme.
They should be screwed into the ground. But let's not confuse the 2 sorts of
people).

There should be benefits, or at least no penalties, for parents who decide to
work out what their financial arrangements should be and to make arrangements
to pay. This should include the case where a parent has a change of
circumstances which needs to revise the payment up or down. It should be
possible to make the change immediately, and certainly not get caught up by a
Government department for months.

The best suggestion so far about how to have a system which takes personal
circumstances into account yet which doesn't impose unreasonable delays on
people who actually want to cooperate is a "self-assessment, pay & file"
scheme. The agency responsible for sorting out child maintenance can monitor
the "filed" amount, and doesn't have to be involved in setting it.

A key to this is "reconciliation". In other words, you may pay too much or too
little for a while, but eventually the whole lot is balanced to the last
pound/euro. Errors are not permanent, they get corrected eventually. This will
take a lot of the anger out of the system.

(A side effect of this policy is that adjusting your circumstances TEMPORARILY
for best effect WILL NOT WORK! You may arrange a few weeks of payslips which
appear to show a low wage, but the reconciliation will be based on the total
over, say, a year, and so will ignore a few ups and downs. Any really good fair
scheme will reward the cooperative people but screw or cancel-out the ones who
play the system!)

The suggestion is for reconciliation at 3, 6, 12, 24, 36, ... months.

----------
MAINTENANCE ACCOUNT

A maintenance account is a special new type of account set up especially to
enable cooperating people to transfer maintenance payments under their own
steam, while having evidence that they are doing so.

Imagine the Midlands Bank (used by the CSA) offering a maintenance account. It
might charge £20 per year, or offer it free to someone with a cheque account
with the bank. (Obvious marketing opportunities).

The account would include a "contract" which the separated parents would sign,
saying that it was for the purpose of child support/maintenance. This OUGHT to
be accepted by the CSA. (If there is doubt, the bank would come to an agreement
with the CSA over the words, etc). Being a private sector bank, there would be
no problems with setting it up very rapidly after separation - no waiting for
Government to react.

The agreement would include full statements, which could be used to prove to
Benefits Agency and CSA what was being transfered. So means-tested benefits and
maintenance payments should be easier to process - this is not attempting to
bypass the system where benefits are adjusted according to maintenance payments
(or any other scheme), it simply enables payment to happen without relying on
the Government or risking disbelief and penalties later.

Payment could start very soon after separation. The PWC could rapidly get a
flow of money. The AP could do the right thing with the child, and also be
avoiding arrears later (and keep in the PWC's good books, which can be useful).
The bank could offer advice on how to calculate the right amount ("sort of") or
point to the NACSA site. The receiver could obtain money by direct debit or
hole-in-the-wall, etc.

The ability of the payer (AP, say) to vary the amount easily (compared with
DEO, direct debit, or tax) would avoid the massive delay in changes of
circumstances and trying to correct errors. APs who tried to pull a fast one
would pay eventually, for example in interest charges on the difference or
penalties (just as for tax - penalties could start at £100, then escalate).
There would be reconciliation at 3 months, 6, 12, 24, 36, etc. This wouldn't
just mean getting the amount right for the future, but would mean getting the
totals correct so far.

(Getting a clear balance over the whole of the history of payment is very
important - apparently-random adjustments with inadequate financial statements
are intolerable and inexcusable in today's financial-services-aware society.
EVERY bank etc can sort this out, so any Government department should also).

----------
FAIRNESS

There is a widespread view of the need to take some personal or relevant
circumstances into account. A flat rate (say X% of wages from one parent to the
other) nearly always has significant problems, both for individuals AND for
society.

The most obvious problem for society and children is that if the time spent
sharing care is ignored, then there is a discouragement to spend time caring
for the child. It costs extra money to do so (meals, pocket money, etc), and
doesn't reduce the fixed maintenance payment. And why should that parent pay
money for that day when no-one else is caring for the child? This is pretty
potty! Some parents will still share care even though it costs them to do so,
but let's not put financial obstacles in their way, and let's preferably
encourage them.

At the very least, the payment formula has to take into account the sharing of
care. It may take other things into account as well, but that deserves a
separate discussion.

Therefore, a simple scheme for paying a flat rate via tax can be seen to be an
anti-care, anti-child, policy. (The only body which gains is Government
administration - but how should that stack up against the interests of the
child?)

----------
RESPONSE TIME

Any system involving significant amounts of people's income should react in
approximately the same time as wages/salary, etc. About 1 month at the most,
and preferably 2 weeks.

It is not acceptable for the scheme to slip to greater times than this while
claiming "reasonable endeavours". A scheme that takes (say) 12 weeks has to be
a different sort of scheme from one taking 4 weeks. It is intolerable to have a
system designed on the assumption that it will react within very few weeks
(which might make temporary errors tolerable) which then takes many times that
to react - such a system would not have been agreed in the first place.

So if the scheme will take a significant delay, a means of catering for the
intervening time should be available - see "self assessment, etc" and
"maintenance account" above. It is probably best to build in such schemes from
the start, and avoid any pressure for rapid response.

----------
TRANSITION

There are 2 separate problems here which keep getting merged:

1: There is the problem of what happens to people who are ALREADY in a
situation which would be screwed up by such a scheme. These are people who
planned their life on one set of assumptions, and who may find that the
assumptions are wrong and they may need to adopt a completely different
lifestyle at massive total cost.

2: There is the problem of the set of principles that society makes for people
IN FUTURE, which may include the suggestion that people who have separated and
have (possibly enforced) commitments to their previous families may HAVE to
delay or cancel the creation of a second family. (People typically don't assume
they can accumulate decendents while in an unseparated family without vast cost
and deprivation and possible hardship, so why should they assume they can do so
when separated?)

If the legislation is intended to achieve some form of social engineering
(which is very likely with the current Government, which is massively into
social engineering), then it HAS to solve "2". There is no point in fighting
this - it WILL happen.

The trick is to see how it can solve "1" as well. Perhaps it needs some
temporary concensions (equivalent to the "clean break concensions").
Legislation should at least identify the 2 cases and state what is happening to
cater for both of them.

----------
THE FORMULA

There is no consensus. It MUST encourage care, but apart from that a separate
debate may be needed.


John Ward


John Ward

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Apr 29, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/29/98
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Here are some general observations from the DEBATE threads.

At times I've despaired about the self-destructive tendencies of this
newsgroup.

----------
TIMESCALES

NOW is the last sensible time to influence the policy for child support for the
next decade. Don't wait for the Green Paper to come out. Don't hope that there
is someone else to fight your case. Your MP may be willing to ensure that the
CSA is reformed/replaced, but since that is inevitable, this is not a major
benefit.

What would you like your MP to stand up in the Commons and say (a couple of
sentences)? What would you like your MP to say to Baroness Hollis if the
opportunity arises? "Please reform the CSA". Oh, yes?

----------
SATISFYING THE GROUP

I naively thought that concensus could be achieved on these topics. I now
realise what should have been obvious - this is a newsgroup united solely by
bad feelings towards the CSA, and typically sympathy towards "clients" of the
CSA.

There is no other commonality. Even the focusses of hatred differ widely.

(A lot of the posts aren't even about the CSA. They are about wo/men behaving
badly, wo/mans' inhumanity to wo/man, loss of (access to) a child, regret about
the recklessness of youth, quality of laboratory testing in a commercial world,
etc).

The result is that whatever Government does, it will upset many people. The one
thing that would please just about everyone would be to have a system which
presented a competent interface - accurate, responsive, objective,
non-judgemental, informative.

----------
COST OF BRINGING UP A CHILD

I haven't a child of my own, but my ex had a child from a previous partner, and
didn't receive maintenance. The marginal extra cost of the child was far higher
than typical amounts suggested in this newsgroup, especially taking into
account the bigger house.

APs typically talk down the costs of children, until it is time to try to
reserve money for their second family, when they try to talk up the cost ...
hm! The fact is, separated parents won't identify a sensible cost of child
support. It has to be done for them.

This is a personal view, rather than one coming from the thread. The cost of
bringing up a child should include:

1: child care / child minding
2: extra cost of larger accommodation
3: consumables (food, clothing, etc)
4: education & entertainment
5: pocket-money

This is typically higher than most people accept.

----------
TAXPAYERS

It tends to be in the financial interests of the separated parents to arrange
their financial affairs to MAXIMISE the amount of means-tested benefit they
claim between them. So typically the AP wants the PWC to receive as much
benefit as possible.

In general, taxpayers want separated parents to MINIMISE the amount of
means-tested benefit they claim between them. The ideal for taxpayers would be
for the parents to claim no more means-tested benefit after separation than
they did before - why should getting separated enable them collectively to take
more from taxpayers?

This sounds mean of the taxpayers - people can't always help their
circumstances, and need assistance at difficult times. OK, but it isn't JUST
being mean:

Suppose that after separation the parents get £50 more benefit between them
than while they were living together. This means taxpayers are making an open
offer: "here is £50 for you to get separated or PRETEND to get separated". This
sounds like an anti-family policy or an invitation to fraud.

OK, this is the last thing on the minds of most people in these desperate
circumstances. But it is one of the standard types of Income Support fraud, and
must be taken into account when setting policy - where there is money, SOME
people will go.

A side issue, more common on the CSA-reform web sites than this newsgroup:
talking about maintenance "paying the Treasury", or "repaying the DSS", or
whatever, just hides the fact that these bodies are simply pipework between tax
payers and tax spenders. Taxpayers aren't fooled - "re-imbursing the Treasury"
means "avoiding the taxpayer having to pay to bring up someone else's child" -
and a Government whose electorate are mostly taxpayers isn't fooled either.
(There are 50 times as many taxpayers as APs paying more than £5 per week. In a
fight, who will win?).

----------
RETROSPECTIVE VERSUS FUTURE CASES

A lot of discussion is of the form "I did this before the CSA came along, why
should I now pay for it?" There is a case for separating the rules for existing
and future cases, as was eventually done for clean breaks (I believe).

But the main legislation must focus on the future. Allowing an exception in
future for those earlier cases would simply encourage that behaviour in future,
or encourage people to CLAIM that behaviour. For example, if an exception is
made for people who had a casual leg-over several years ago, then this might be
a good story to be used in future even when it isn't actually the case - it
will enable the couple to maximise their total benefits.

The trick is to distinguish between the 2 cases, and cater for the future
without being too hard on those who got into the situation unawares.

----------
FAIRNESS

There are no conclusions about what is fair. There is NO consensus about what
"fairness" means. It appears to be a figment of the imaginations of people who
want the system to cater for a quirk of their own personal cicumstances.

I've pretty well given up on this, except that it should take sharing of care
into account. Just adapt!

----------
DIFFERENT VIEWPOINTS

A lot of the debate took a narrow viewpoint, for example just the APs'. This is
not surprising, but it makes the story impossible to sell to Government.

If you can't show advantages, or at least lack of disadvantage, for the
following, you barely have a starter: children; PWC; AP; taxpayer/voter. At
least show you've thought about them. Remember that the decision-makers can do
sums - don't try to bullshit them.


John Ward


Alan Ockerby

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Apr 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/30/98
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John Ward wrote in message <01bd73b7$f1fc5fe0$e12b...@iclweb.com>...


>Here are some general observations from the DEBATE threads.
>
>At times I've despaired about the self-destructive tendencies of this
>newsgroup.
>

That's because you are not in the clutches iof those bastards.

John O

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Apr 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/30/98
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John Ward wrote:
>
> The first really silly thing I did this year (one month ago) was to start a
> series of debates around topics of concern to the Government...
>
> John Ward

May I humbly suggest you cross-post your conclusions to the uk.legal
group: having started to post there more often, I find the level of
legal input there to be of high quality - and a little bit more
cross-fertilisation could be valuable.

I won't cross-post your stuff myself unless you agree that you have no
probs with my doing so...

Ian Clark

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Apr 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/30/98
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On 29 Apr 1998 21:43:21 GMT, "John Ward" <john...@iclweb.com> wrote:

>Here are some general observations from the DEBATE threads.
>
>At times I've despaired about the self-destructive tendencies of this
>newsgroup.
>

[mega snip]

Hi John,

When I get the time...been busy of late...I will read your detailed
postings and respond in due course.

However, I must take you to task on the opening to your thread. As a
subscriber to this newgroup for a month or so I cannot agree that
there is an air of "self-destructiveness" about any of the postings. I
could have picked one of any of the following as a more accurate
description....anxious, worried, despairing, scared, skint, angry,
confused, suicidal....others will have their own choice.

Cheers, Ian.

Ian Clark

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Apr 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/30/98
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On 29 Apr 1998 21:43:21 GMT, "John Ward" <john...@iclweb.com> wrote:

[snip]

>SATISFYING THE GROUP
>
>I naively thought that concensus could be achieved on these topics. I now
>realise what should have been obvious - this is a newsgroup united solely by
>bad feelings towards the CSA, and typically sympathy towards "clients" of the
>CSA.
>
>There is no other commonality. Even the focusses of hatred differ widely.
>
>(A lot of the posts aren't even about the CSA. They are about wo/men behaving
>badly, wo/mans' inhumanity to wo/man, loss of (access to) a child, regret about
>the recklessness of youth, quality of laboratory testing in a commercial world,
>etc).
>

[snip]

Hi John,

I would agree that at times...and I am just as guilty...the focus of
the newsgroup has been fuzzied by postings that don't necessarily
relate to the workings of the CSA and how best we can tackle our
individual problems.

One reason could be that aside from our difficulties in understanding
the regulations and our asking for help in this newsgroup, it is
inevitable that people will seek to draw support for their case by
highlighting their personal circumstances and show where the
injustices are. And quite frankly, from what I have read, the
overwhelming feeling I get is that most of the contributors to this
newsgroup are responsible, caring parents who want to support their
children but find themselves battling against former partners who are
unco-operative and the CSA who are just as unco-operative.

I think it is important to read postings from people who are prepared
to bring into the public doain their personal circumstances, that way
we can have a informed discussion on how the CSA deals with such
issues.

My £0.02

Cheers, Ian.

to.reply.p...@end.of.message.com

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May 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM5/1/98
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On 29 Apr 1998 20:56:32 GMT, "John Ward" <john...@iclweb.com> wrote:

|The first really silly thing I did this year (one month ago) was to start a

|series of debates around topics of concern to the Government, by starting some
|threads on this newsgroup. (These threads had "DEBATE" in the title).

This wasn't silly!

|The second really silly thing was to print out the subsequent posts and go
|through them with a highlighter to see if I could spot nuggets.

This wasn't silly either!

|The third really silly thing was to attempt to build a file of the conclusions,
|good ideas, things that might be taken to Government, etc.

AND this wasn't silly!

|(I'll post this file next. Unfortunately, I just KNOW that some of you won't be able to resist
|restarting discussions).

Now that IS silly! You can't expect to post conclusions you have
arrived at by (much) thought, and then expect others not to give
theirs. Even if it does repeat previous threads. it what newgroups are
for surely.

|Going to this trouble gives me the right to make some telling, rude, or even
|insulting, statements, based on this material.

True, but you have the right anyway ;-)

|(I'll also post some thoughts
|about this).

Good. I've read them and they all seem valid to me. The only thing is
that you seem so disallusioned about peoples responses over the last
month or two. Come on, cheer up! People in this group are probably
more biased than most people you will ever meet. Even I am- (to a
lesser extent I hope), even though I try to present more of an overall
(and sometimes opposing) view.

|I've been weighed down for some time by a feeling of "unfinished business",
|because I started those threads. Once I've posted these responses I'll be able
|to relax a bit.

Don't worry so much! I may not speak for everyone (you never can can
you?), but, I for one, am very glad of your input and thoughts on the
whole issue. It has made a refreshing change to read constructive
postings (and some VERY good ideas), in this newsgroup.

Don't go away for gods sake - we need you and others like you ;-)

H.

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David Burton

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May 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM5/1/98
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I could not agree more with H. You have done the best possible work. There are some who lurk,
read, and nod in wholehearted agreement. And as a result of your efforts do not live alone. And
they thank you for that.

John Ward

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May 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM5/10/98
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John O <mam...@dial.pipex.com> wrote in article
<3548CD...@dial.pipex.com>...
(SNIP)

> May I humbly suggest you cross-post your conclusions to the uk.legal
> group: having started to post there more often, I find the level of
> legal input there to be of high quality - and a little bit more
> cross-fertilisation could be valuable.

I have now posted an edited version of the conclusions of the debate to
news:uk.legal .

I haven't cross-posted, because this hasn't always proved popular, and can lead
to disjoint sub-threads.


John Ward


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