child support - agency head resigns


The Head of the Child Support Agency, Doug Smith, has been forced to resign because of the continuing failure of the computer system to deliver child maintenance payments. His departure grabbed the headlines, but this hides real problems for poverty-stricken lone parents and tax-payers.

The £456 million computer system imported from the US firm EDS, after the government refused to "buy British" has resulted in an even greater backlog of cases and delays in payments. The CSA received 478,000 applications but only 61,000 parents have received any money. More than 500,000 parents are owed £75 million, and more than £1 billion of arrears has been written off.

The government has turned a deaf ear to criticism and protests by families and civil service workers over the past four years. A Select Committee report called the EDS system "an appalling waste of public money" and called for the system to be dumped. It has been suggested that the system be administered by the Inland Revenue, but Blair refuses to consider any alternative.

The failure of the CSA makes the government's promise to halve child poverty by 2010 look risible. Kate Green, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said, "Whoever is in charge, the CSA is a mess and children in poverty are losing out. Other countries have child support managed successfully by the state, and there is no reason why it shouldn't be the same in the UK. The current system is failing children and needs urgent government attention."