HC Deb 20 May 2002 vol 386 cc11-2
6. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

How many staff vacancies there are in the Child Support Agency. [55492]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

When expressed as the equivalent number of full-time posts, the latest available estimate for staff vacancies in the Child Support Agency is 798. At the end of March, the agency had just over 12,000 staff. That gives a vacancy rate of 6 per cent. We are taking several steps to fill those vacancies.

Mr. Turner

If there are so many vacancies, why does the Child Support Agency, like many other Government agencies, refuse to consider people over 65 who apply for jobs with them? Instead of waiting for Europe to direct the Government to do what is clearly right, why do not Ministers end Government age discrimination?

Malcolm Wicks

Many companies and public services have vacancies, not least because unemployment has declined—by 48 per cent. in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We are taking several steps, which include recruiting and promoting opportunities for evening work and family friendly employment. I acknowledge that there is a debate about ageism and appropriate retirement rates. That will continue in future, because as hon. Members have pointed out earlier, we are all getting older.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

There will be a greater demand for staff at the Child Support Agency, and vacancies will increase when the reforms are introduced later this year. The reforms introduce two standards on maintenance payments. One is the new rate of 15 per cent. and the other is the old rate of 30 per cent. That will create a greater anomaly and more staff will have to be recruited to deal with it. Will my hon. Friend address that?

Malcolm Wicks

I do not recognise that the reforms will lead to more staff. We are simplifying the formula for child support and placing greater emphasis on enforcement. It was pointed out earlier that hon. Members of all parties are worried about absent parents who do not understand their obligations. We are therefore emphasising enforcement.

I pay tribute to the staff of the CSA who, in the past five years, have seen maintenance increase from £400 million to £800 million. That is a credit to them.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

As the Minister said, the new formula will increase the efficiency of the staff of the CSA but will it better take account of cases in which the care of children is genuinely shared 50:50 between the parents, especially as 100 per cent. of child benefit has to go to one parent?

Malcolm Wicks

Yes is the short answer. Some children are brought up by both parents and we want to encourage that. The formula therefore takes account of it.

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