SPSW01 - Child Support Research and Policy Impacts
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of York
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Demography, Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Research at York undertaken by Bradshaw, Skinner, Corden and Davidson,
child support policy throughout the period 2008-2013, informing the
radical change that abolished
the Child Support Agency and returned child maintenance to the hands of
parents to make private
agreements under the `Child Maintenance and Other Payments' Act 2008. It
also contributed to
the decision to disregard child support payments and thus allow child
support to increase lone
parent incomes and reduce child poverty. More recently our research has
contributed to the
evolution of policy under the Coalition Government in the 2012 `Welfare
Reform' Act, which
introduced new `relationship support' services to improve co-parenting
conflict and improve child well-being.
The Child Support Act 1991 introduced a new child support policy. The
Child Support Agency
(CSA) was established to force more separated parents (mainly fathers) to
maintenance. But it was set up with hardly any previous research on
non-resident fathers and
extremely limited understanding about their child maintenance attitudes
and behaviours. The
policy was strongly resisted and payment rates remained consistently low.
There was a long
hiatus in policy making while policy makers waited for the CSA to deliver.
Eventually the CSA
catastrophically failed. The insights from the research at York were
debated afresh throughout
the extensive review process leading to the radical 2008 Act. There were
four main studies:
1. The first ever national survey of 600 non-resident fathers in Britain
undertaken by Bradshaw
(1993-current Professor), Skinner (1995 Research Assistant, [1996-98 PhD
Research Fellow, 2000-08 Lecturer, 2008-current Senior Lecturer), Stimson
(Research Fellow to
1998) and Williams (Research Fellow to 2010), 1995 - 1999. Funded by the
ESRC as a project in
the Population and Household Change Programme. The survey estimated the
population size of
non-resident fathers, described patterns of maintenance payments and
contact arrangements. It
demonstrated that fathers' financial obligations were entwined with their
social and emotional
bonds with children (and the other parent) and were fraught and complex.
What mattered most
were relationships, but fathers found it difficult to work out the `proper
thing to do' regarding child
maintenance. They needed a supportive policy, not ones that stigmatised
them as `feckless'. We
highlighted how child support policy was likely to fail as it was out of
line with fathers' sense of
fairness and the way child maintenance obligations operated in practice.
2. Bradshaw was commissioned by the JRF to review the potential
contribution of child support
to child poverty reduction as part of its 2006 programme What will it
take to end child poverty in
the UK? His research included comparative research on child support
policy in OECD countries
and the secondary analysis of the Family Resources Survey to model what a
disregard would do to child poverty. Skinner and Meyer (2006) also
undertook similar secondary
analysis of the Family and Child Survey to assess whether child support
was helping lone
3. Then the DWP commissioned us to conduct new comparative research to
feed directly into the
2008 Act. An international comparative study of child maintenance systems
across 14 countries
was conducted by Skinner, Bradshaw and Davidson (2005-2012 Research
Fellow) funded by the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It extended the original 1999 work
done by Anne
Corden (1993-current Senior Research Fellow) in our Social Policy Research
Unit. The findings
confirmed private agreements were advantageous and that although
enforcement tools were
varied, compliance was difficult to achieve this way.
4. Then two other research projects commissioned by government related to
implementation phase of the 2008 Act and the development of the 2012 Act.
Both involved the
collaboration of Skinner as research consultant to advise on research
design, analysis, findings,
and identification of key insights for policy:
- The DWP commissioned a research consortium (led by the National Centre
Research in collaboration with Skinner and Wikeley) to conduct the first
national survey of
separated mothers and fathers in the general population (n=1,956)
(Wikeley et al 2008:7).
Key insights were that parents favoured private agreements, but only if
effective information and support services.
The Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC) commissioned
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) with Skinner as consultant to conduct a
exploring willingness to pay child maintenance among 67 parents without
extended Skinner's earlier work (1999) confirming the vital role of
emotions and the quality of
family relationships in making financial commitments.
References to the research
1. Bradshaw, J., Stimson, C., Skinner, C. and Williams, J., (1999) Absent
Routledge. Peer reviewed at grant application stage. A unique survey
gaining a sample of over
600 non-resident fathers. To date, it remains the only study to achieve a
sample of non-resident fathers from among the general population (i.e. not
a sample of CSA
clients). It also included in-depth study which developed a conceptual and
framework around fathers' willingness to pay.
2. Bradshaw, J. (2006) Child Support. Background Paper for the
JRF Report What will it take to
end child poverty in the UK? http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/eBooks/9781859355039.pdf
published as peer reviewed article Bradshaw, J. (2006) Child support and
Benefits: The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, October, 14, 3,
3. Skinner, C. and Meyer, D. (2006) `After all the policy reform, is
child support actually helping
low-income mothers?' in The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice,
vol.14, No.3. The article
reports the findings of an unfunded secondary analysis of the Families and
Peer reviewed at publication stage.
4. Skinner, C., Bradshaw, J. and Davidson, J., (2007) Child Support
Policy: an international
perspective, Research Report No. 405, Department of Work and
Pensions, Leeds: Corporate
Document Services, pp. 211, 2007. Peer reviewed at grant application
stage. Only the second
study of its kind and the largest, comparing systems across 14 countries.
5. Wikeley, N. Ireland, E. Bryson, C. and Smith, R. (2008) Relationship
separation and child
support study, Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No
503, Norwich: TSO.
Skinner was one of two non NatCen employees on the research consortium.
She advised on
aspects of design, survey instruments, analytical framework, data
analysis, interpretation of
findings and writing of the final report. Peer reviewed at grant
application stage. A unique
survey in UK, cited in many policy documents.
6. Andrews, S., Armstrong, D., McLernon, L., Megaw, S., and Skinner, C.
(2011) Promotion of
Child Maintenance: Research on Instigating Behaviour Change, Child
Enforcement Commission, Research Report no, 1, Leeds: Corporate Document
en/pdf/research/Main-Report-Vol-I.pdf Peer reviewed at grant
application stage. Cited by MP
Maria Millar on Radio 4 Woman's Hour 7/3/2011.
All publications available on request
Supporting Grants * peer reviewed
*Bradshaw, J. `Fathers Apart in Britain' ESRC Grant L315253005,
01/01/1995 - 30/04/1997,
£103,218.00. Also *ESRC funding for full-time PhD 1995-1998: `The
financial obligations of non-resident
fathers and the implications for social policy'.
Bradshaw, J. `Child Support International Comparisons' Department
of Work and Pensions Grant
R02939, 1/5/2006-4/9/2006 £72,447. Further variation to contract:
National Centre for Social Research Consortium including Professor N.
Wikeley and Dr C.
Skinner `Child Support and Relationship Breakdown Survey',
Department of Work and Pensions
Grant NatCen ref P2698, 1/11/2006-January/2008, £612,420.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) `Promotion of Child Maintenance:
Change', Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission Grant PwC
Number 4547, 2/3/2009-1/12/2009,
£179,896.25. This information demonstrates the extent of the grant and the
of the investment in this research area.
Details of the impact
By 1997 when the Labour Government came to power it was clear that the
1991 Act was failing.
We had been writing about it1. But initially they sought to
simplify the old system. However their
new system was delayed and then failed to deliver. The Work and Pensions
published a series of reports. Bradshaw acted as Special Advisor on the
DWP Committee Report2
which concluded that the CSA "a failing organisation which currently is in
given to the option of winding up the Child Support Agency and plans made
for an alternative."
A new chief executive was appointed to the Child Support Agency and
undertook an urgent review
but his plans involved extra spending and little improvement. So the
Secretary of State announced
(Hansard 9 February 2006) that there would be a review by Sir David
Henshaw to completely
redesign the child support system, to report by the summer recess. Our
research contributed to the
Henshaw review3. The 2006 White Paper that followed also
referred to our work4. Between the
White Paper and the 2008 Act Bradshaw and Skinner were active in a series
of private, high level,
policy seminars involving key ministers (Lord Hunt, Lord Kirkwood).
Skinner presented a paper5 at
a Nuffield Foundation seminar. A paper6 presented by Bradshaw
at a seminar run jointly by The
Nuffield Foundation and One Parent Families was vital in influencing the
commissioning of the
international comparative study conducted at York (Skinner et al 2007) the
findings of which were
fed directly to the Director of the Child Support Division for the
operational redesign. There was a
consultation that referred directly to the results of our research7.
The White Paper led to the 2008 Act which abolished the CSA and returned
to private agreements;
the development of a new Child Maintenance Options service in 2008
offering holistic information
and advice services to all separated parents; and the introduction of new
services under the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, which includes an online
application `Sorting out Separation' designed by `the Family
Support Services Expert Steering
Child maintenance obligations are now recognised by policy makers as
being intimately interlinked
with family relationships; this has been the consistent message from our
research. The policy
changes from 2008-2013 affect all separated parents in the population (not
just CSA clients) and
consequently all of the dependent children who live with one non-widowed
lone parent, estimated
at 30% of all dependent children in the UK. The move to private agreements
and the delivery of
new support services under both Acts will have a vital impact on improving
parental relationships in
separated families and for increasing child well-being.
Skinner also acted as policy advisor to the House of Commons Work and
inquiry into Child Support Reforms (2007). Skinner, helped set the key
recommendations of the
enquiry, which included calling on the government to introduce holistic
support services dealing
with all aspects of parenting in separated families, not just child
During 2008-2010 the insights on non-resident parents' child maintenance
from Skinner's research on willingness to pay8 were delivered
directly to the first Chair of the Child
Maintenance Enforcement Commission (CMEC replaced the CSA) and the
Director of the Child
Support Division (2/10/2008). The findings from these studies were key in
Maintenance Options in 2008 which offered holistic information and support
services to all
separating parents (not just CSA clients) to help them make private
Skinner's research9 developed the evidence base further to help
policy makers understand how
more parents could be encouraged to make private agreements; i.e. through
a range of supportive
services that tackled separated family relationships and the practical and
of relationship breakdown. It confirmed our earlier work at York showing
the vital importance of
parental and child relationships to willingness to pay. These insights
were incorporated into the
2012 Welfare Reform Act which focused upon encouraging co-parenting
relationships `first and
foremost' as the basis upon which child maintenance will then flow, rather
than the first approach
being to use ever stronger enforcement methods10 Following
that, the `Family Support Service
Expert Steering Group' involving Skinner as the sole social policy
academic developed a `2020
vision for new relationship support' services to help parents collaborate
in the upbringing of their
children (the first manifestation of service being the web application `Sorting
Separation'). Taken together, our research has shifted the policy
rhetoric towards a more nuanced
understanding of parental behaviour which recognises the importance of
relationship factors to
willingness to pay11).
The 2012 scheme is still being piloted but we believe it is a much better
policy thanks partly to our
persistent research, scholarship and policy engagement since 1994.
Sources to corroborate the impact
1. Bradshaw , J. Talk to the House of Parliament all-part Committee on
Child support 1996,
Bradshaw, J. and Skinner, C. (1999) 'Memorandum to the House of Commons
Committee Inquiry on Child Support', pp133-139 in, Minutes of Evidence 15
HC 798-iii, The Stationery Office: London,
Skinner, C. and Bradshaw, J. (2000) 'Non-resident fathers, child support
Benefits, 27, 5-8
Bradshaw, J. and Skinner, C. (2000) 'Child support: the British fiasco',
Focus, 21, 1, 80-86).
2. The performance of the CSA, Second report 2004-5 Vol 1
3. Corden A, 1999, Making child support arrangements work, Joseph
Rowntree Foundation and
Australian Child Support Agency, 2005, Child Support Schemes — Australia
referenced page 67
4. A new system of child maintenance (Cmnd 6879) referred to our work on
reduction (pages 19 and 20).
5. Skinner, C. (2008) Understanding `Willingness To Pay' Child
Maintenance, presented at
private high level policy seminar `Relationship Breakdown And Child
Maintenance: Creating A
Successful Child Maintenance System' Chaired by Lord Archy Kirkwood,
attended by the
Director of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. Nuffield
Bedford Square, London, 2.10.2008.3 and the DWP Director of the Child
responsible for the policy redesign under the 2008 Act.
6. Bradshaw, J. (2006) Child Support. Background Paper for the JRF Report
What will it take to
end child poverty in the UK? http://www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop/eBooks/9781859355039.pdf
7. DWP (2007) A new System of Child Maintenance, Summary of Responses To
Norwich: TSO (paras 1.8; B.7; B.8; B.9 and page 95).
8. Wikeley, N. Ireland, E. Bryson, C. and Smith, R. (2008) Relationship
Separation And Child
Support Study, Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No 503,
Cited in many current policy documents.
9. Andrews, Armstrong, McLernon, Megaw and Skinner, March 2011, Promotion
Maintenance: Research on Instigating Behaviour Change, CMEC
10. DWP (2011) `Government's response to the Green Paper consultation
promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance'.
Presented to Parliament by
the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by Command of Her Majesty
July 2011, London:
DWP. Cites Wikeley et al 2008 and Andrews et al 2011.
11. House of Commons (December 2011) Work and Pensions Committee, The
proposed child maintenance reforms: Government Response to the Committee's
of Session 2010-12 Eighth Special Report of Session 2010-12. London: House
See Rhetoric Appendix 1; end notes, 2, 4, 5 and 6.
DWP January 2013: Preparing for the future, tackling the past Child
Maintenance — Arrears
and Compliance Strategy 2012 - 2017. See rhetoric pages 5 and 8. Cites
Andrews et al
2011:8. Explains the `Sorting Out Separation App' p9: Segmentation model
Letters (2011-12) from the House of Commons, Maria Miller MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of
State and Minister for Disabled People' inviting Skinner as academic
expert to join the `Family
Support Services Expert Steering Group' and sub groups.