Friday, November 18, 2005

Where are mothers 4 justice?

Asks Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian:
"The prime minister was stumped when pressed in the Commons. He admitted that the Child Support Agency is a disaster and no one knows what to do. He said the CSA has a "fundamental problem". Indeed it has. The backlog of 250,000 cases is still growing. Near-destitute mothers are owed £1.7bn in maintenance. The Liberal Democrat MP David Laws finds that the CSA collects only £1.85 for every £1 it spends. A simpler system that lets men pay less has perversely led to even more non-payers."
It is indeed a mess. Our Pol rightly blames Peter Lilley. The CSA was a good idea. Hitherto, mothers with children had to pursue maintenance through the courts. This was time-consuming and with the results often uncertain, single-mothers usually had to depend on Income Support or what ws then called Family Credit, rather than the absent fathers who should have been paying maintenance. But Peter Lilley, getting all moist at the prospect of reducing welfare, introduced the system too quickly, leaving the mess that it is now.

Ms. Toynbee is right to a limited extent in blaming this present government too:
"But amid this week's flurry of finger-wagging, no one said a word about the real villains...(w)hat about the men who don't pay? They don't have to wait to be billed, do they? Politicians good at demonising boys in hoodies - who probably have won't-pay fathers - say nothing much about derelict dads.
Now where is Tony Blair's punitive side when you really need it?"
It's a very good question. However, methinks Polly spoils a perfectly good argument by overstating her case. She has a very good grasp of how social policy works so she knows perfectly well that the system when it was introduced was so hellishly complicated there was never really much chance of it working until it was simplified. But by the time it was, already the culture of non-payment had become entrenched, and I think her case would work better if she acknowledged that there were - usually as a result maladministrationion, and sometimes because of a failure to take account of transfers of wealth like houses - unfairnesses in the original system.

She asks would the government put up with a mass non-payment campaign of road tax and TV licenses but as she knows perfectly well, neither of these are means-tested so they are infinitely easier to collect and even this doesn't prevent quite extensive tax-avoidance. In this sense it isn't entirely fair to blame this present government because they were not the authors of this fiasco.

And she goes off a bit with this stuff about a 'man tax'.
"(Feminists in Sweden) came up with one good idea - a man tax. Work out the extra cost of men to the state in crime, violence, car crashes and non-payment of maintenance, and tax all men the way insurance companies price high-risk groups regardless of individual qualities.

Alas, it's not realistic politics ..."
It's not only 'unrealistic' - it's unjust. I have to confess to having wrecked a couple of cars in my time but I'm not guilty of the other three and I really don't think it would be reasonable for me to pay for those who are, out of some collective gender guilt or something.

Taking what may be generally true and applying it to every case: in the past we used to call that a sexist stereotype, Pol. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now. It's a shame to take this line because it's that sort of thing that will make people disregard her basic argument, which they shouldn't because it's basically correct.

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