Readers will have seen reports of the difficulties in which the Child Support Agency now finds itself, culminating in the resignation of its Chief Executive. Members of Parliament are all too familiar with the work of the CSA; not because we have abandoned our wives and families in droves and then failed to support them, but because, for many of us, it is the largest single generator of work at our Advice Bureaux.
When the state interposes itself into a broken relationship, it will attract to itself the bitterness previously focussed on the ex-partner. And if the state is less than efficient in discharging its responsibilities, folk will come to see their MP. We can explain the purpose of the legislation – that parents should support their children if they are in a position so to do, rather than the taxpayer. Taking sides is difficult; who is right in the following?
An ex-wife came to see me, asserting that her husband had lied about his income to the CSA, thereby reducing his payments to her and the children. He was a self-employed builder and, before they split up, she used to do his books. She knew all too well what he really earned; indeed, when he had recently returned the children, he had done so in a new Mercedes. Would I please put the CSA investigators on to him, so justice could be done?
Not long after, the ex-husband came to see me. His ex-wife, to whom he had given the marital home worth £1/2 million when she started an affair with another man, was making life difficult. Their children were all at school, she was a qualified accountant, she should get off her butt and get a job. The wealthy boyfriend had moved in with her, but she had not declared her change of circumstances to Income Support, who were unaware of her cohabitation. He, in the meantime, had remarried and had acquired four stepchildren that he was now supporting. Why was the CSA chasing him, when Income Support should be chasing his ex-wife?
If Solomon was the CSA Chief Executive, how would he solve that case and millions like it?
Of course, he could always blame the computer. I did that once. Thirty years ago, when I worked in the public sector, my task was to work out the rate of return on planned investment to see if it was worthwhile. I fed in to the computer the cost of investment in new switching equipment, the saving in labour costs that would ensue and the increased revenues from customers. Reams of paper emerged from the computer, at the foot of which was the key figure – 12.47. This was higher than the then Test Discount Rate for Public Sector investment of 7%. I approved the multi-million investment programme and went out to lunch.
I discovered later that 12.47 was not the rate of return; it was the time the computer finished its run.