Another disaster foretold? : the case of the Child Support Agency
The Child Support Agency became operational in April 1993. The government hoped to introduce a system which would be clear and consistent and would deliver realistic amounts of child maintenance from more absent parents than under the old court and Department of Social Security systems. In so doing, the new system would reduce animosity between parents by removing child maintenance from any other divorce or separation negotiations and applying a fixed formula. However, it quickly became obvious that the new system for the assessment, collection and enforcement of maintenance for children was failing. This study adds to the debate about why the system failed by looking at what influenced government policy, both in the setting up of the Agency and in the changes introduced between April 1993 and April 1996. The study draws on evidence from politicians and political parties, the civil service, the voluntary sector and protest groups set up specifically to oppose the Agency. By outlining the attempts made by these various groups to influence the government and by closely examining the detail of the legislation and the formula used by the Agency, the study shows where the government responded positively to lobbying and whose influence was effectively ignored. The study also shows how the government managed to retain its commitment to reducing public expenditure and promoting "family values" as the basis of child support policy, but in practice failed to deliver on the main aims of the policy. Having analysed the failings of the system, the study concludes with some positive suggestions for improvement.