I would hope that everyone agrees that parents should continue to take financial responsibility for their children after the break-up of a relationship. We must understand that relationship break-up can often be a disturbing and distressing time for everybody, often leaving behind a great deal of bad feeling. It is not easy in such circumstances to come to an arrangement that is fair on both partners and, most of all, fair on the children. The criticisms that I will be directing today at the Child Maintenance Service, and its predecessor the Child Support Agency, should not be taken as an indication that I do not appreciate the difficult circumstances in which it has to operate.
Many absent parents do their best to care for their children, and I do not want to give the impression that everybody whose relationship has broken up is trying to avoid their responsibilities. Sadly, however, some people see the break-up of a relationship as an opportunity to abandon all responsibilities for their children. The Child Maintenance Service owes it to those children and to the resident parent to ensure that the absent parent complies with their legal and moral responsibilities. We are not talking about forcing somebody to pay to give their children a life of luxury. Indeed, we are often talking about forcing somebody to pay money that they can well afford in order to keep their own children out of poverty. The Child Maintenance Service is sometimes not good enough at getting money from people who can afford it, and we sometimes see it pursuing people for payments that they quite clearly cannot afford.