Daily Mail blatently misrepresents single mums

// 2 August 2008


“One in five CSA mothers name the wrong father,” screams the headline for this story about the paternity testing by the Child Support Agency.

A shocking statistic? But one which is a total lie, contradicted only three paragraphs into the Mail’s own story.

Taking numbers only from the Mail’s own reporting, we see that CSA has a backlog alone of 121,000 cases. So, thousands and thousands of mothers must have “lied” in order to justify that headline, right? The actual number:

661 out of cases where 3,474 tests were ordered in the past year, not one in five mothers who applied for or received child support.

Even taking into consideration all of the cases in the entire history of the CSA where a paternity test has proved that the named father is not the biological parent, the figure is only 4,854. Meanwhile, according to this press release, 768,000 children received child support last year, an increase of 65,000 on the year before.

Let me remind you of the total number of paternity tests at the centre of the Mail’s story – 661.

Although the article is by no means as bad as the headline, the real story is not about hordes of mothers trying to trap men into paying child support, it is that four out of five fathers who asked for a paternity test found out that they were the biological father of the child. Or 80% of contested cases.

It therefore seems hard to justify the first two paragraphs:

Single mothers are deliberately naming the wrong man as the father of their children when making maintenance claims, it was revealed yesterday.

Others have had so many sexual partners that they are unsure precisely which one is the father, meaning they inadvertently give officials the wrong identity.

Yes, perhaps some women may deliberately name the wrong person, or may not know who the father is. But this headline and lede imply that it is extremely common, rather than a tiny minority of cases. By deliberately inflating the issue, the Daily Mail appears to be carrying out a campaign to shame single mothers, and women’s sexual autonomy more generally.

This, of course, from the same newspaper that runs moralising stories advocating that women’s access to abortion be constrained.

(Thanks to reader David who sent in the link!)

Comments From You

Rachel // Posted 2 August 2008 at 11:23 am

Do men never demand paternity tests, then? This is nasty stuff but, sadly, not that surprising. Your point about the Daily Mail being the first to try and restrict abortion rights is brilliant – characteristic muddled thinking there. A bit of a tangent perhaps, but has anyone seen the Guardian’s coverage of the same story? It’s worse, if anything – it actually calls for women who make claims which turn out to be false to be prosecuted, even though it admits that the total amount spent on false claims was only £200,000 last year (about – this is based on 1 in 5 claims being false and my substandard mathematical ability – they print various statistics and figures but I tried to work that one out, and bearing in mind the whole tone of the article they may not be true numbers anyway) compared to £3.8 bn of uncollected money from fathers. Worst of all, once they start talking about the non-collected money they switch from talking about ‘lying’ women and hard done by men, to gender neutral “parents”, and start blaming the CSA for not making men pay, rather than blaming the men who don’t pay. Sorry about the rant – the piece is in news (!) not opinion and you can’t comment on it, so I’ve been waiting to get that off my chest since yesterday!

MGTOW // Posted 2 August 2008 at 12:01 pm

The Guardian chose an almost identical headline: “DNA testing: One in five fathers wrongly identified by mothers in Child Support Agency claims”


Peter // Posted 2 August 2008 at 12:10 pm

To be fair to the mail, it shows that 20% of cases tested over the past were false.

By any measure a sample of 3,474 cases is enough to make a robust conclsuion. From what I have read I cannot say whether this is representaive of all “CSA mothers” but it certainly sheds light on thoes cases that are likely to be contested.

The solution: test all cases routinely

Jess McCabe // Posted 2 August 2008 at 12:19 pm

Peter –

Perhaps I should have made it clearer in the post, as I thought it was obvious: 3,500 might be a reasonable sample size, but it is not a random sample of cases in the CSA – it is a self-selected sample of cases where the man believes there is room to doubt.

Therefore what the statistic shows is not that 20% of all mothers claiming child support were “lying” or wrong about who the father was, but 20% of cases where the man believed there was room to doubt showed he was not the biological parent of the child. It’s not perfect – after all, not every man in this position would go down the route of demanding a paternity test for a variety of reasons.

However, it is emphatically not a random sampling of children receiving benefits through the CSA.

Jess McCabe // Posted 2 August 2008 at 12:23 pm

Incidentally, I think routine testing is a terrible idea. Not only would it be a massive cost on the system, but I suspect there are vast swathes of cases where it would be inapproporiate, unnecessary, invasive.

peter // Posted 2 August 2008 at 12:43 pm


The point about the same not being representative is well taken, but we cannot rule out that many thousands of men are paying for children not their own.

Surely anything to reduce this should be welcome. It is not expensive in the context of 18 years of regular payment.

Anna // Posted 2 August 2008 at 2:48 pm

“Others have had so many sexual partners that they are unsure precisely which one is the father”

So many? what, two?


lucy adams // Posted 2 August 2008 at 4:10 pm

If man is forced to pay for a child not his own that is an injustice. The daily mail’s article and indeed the Guardians ovsersimplied the conclusions but the fact remains that the injstice needs to be highlighted.

Jennifer // Posted 2 August 2008 at 4:55 pm

Peter – we may not be able to rule out that thousands of men are paying for children not their own, but given that they’re not contesting this payment, why are you? lucy adams – for the reason above, I’d say it’s not an injustice.

Chris Morris // Posted 2 August 2008 at 5:40 pm

Peter: “but we cannot rule out that many thousands of men are paying for children not their own.”

If both the man and the mother believe the child to be theirs, how does it benefit any of the three to be told otherwise? Why do the testing unless one of the three asks for it?

Consider a case where the man had been living with the mother and child for several years, playing some part in childcare, education, etc. and then left on reasonably amicable terms and the child is still happy to have friendly contact with him. To me, he’s the father regardless of what DNA says.There’s no point in testing them – almost always it will pointlessly confirm what everyone already knows, and in the small minority of cases that it doesn’t it will just make the whole situation considerably messier to no-one’s real benefit.

There’s (often) more to being a father than genetics (as adoption and fertility treatments based on sperm donation prove, the genetics part isn’t even a requirement)

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 2 August 2008 at 5:49 pm

There are two glaring issues. One is the blatant lies published in two newspapers and of course we must not forget the print media frequently claims it is merely printing ‘facts’ not fantasy.

Secondly, there are not ‘many thousands of men paying for children when they are not the biological father.

The facts are only 20% or to be more precise 661 men who were not the fathers of children for whom the mothers were claiming Child support. Let’s say it again shall we – 3,474 women are rightly claiming benefit from men who are the biological fathers of the women’s children.

Can all the outrage expressed by the Guardian and Daily Male be because men are being told they must pay child support and of course paying money in order to support children born of a sexual liasion is something many men do not want to accept. Women must be made available for men to sexually consume but never, ever must men be held financially accountable. Likewise claims women claiming child support have had innumerable partners is just another example of patriarchy attempting to stigmatise women but never of course promiscuous men.

As always I have no doubt none of these cases are a one size fits all. Some may be in respect of mothers who have separated from the father and the man is claiming ‘but the child cannot possibly be mine (sic) because that woman had an affair with another man. This was a common claim until of course the arrival of DNA testing which neatly solves claims a man cannot possibly be the biological father of a child.

Ah patriarchy is a curious animal on the one hand we constantly hear women have ‘men’s children’ and yet on the other hand we hear men refuting biological parentage. Sounds to me as though patriarchy wants the cake as well as eating it.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 2 August 2008 at 10:01 pm

Hmmm… It’s also very easy for men (such as my son’s father) who damn well know the truth to dodge and dodge and evade the CSA. They’ve been after him for nearly twelve years, I’ve never seen a penny from him. Most of all I dislike the big question mark over my sexual business of nearly thirteen years ago. He came very close to ruining my life with his egregious denials of paternity, but he didn’t! Ha!

Aimee // Posted 3 August 2008 at 1:24 pm

What awful, naughty women we are. Of course, men are admonished from blame despite the fact that they are the ones impregnating said women in the first place? The Daily Mail makes me ill. Can we go and picket them or something?

mark // Posted 3 August 2008 at 2:27 pm

I just stumbled on this site (but I’m not a troll!).

My comment is for Jennifer. You say, “that given that they’re not contesting this payment, why are you?”

I would imagine that men do not contest because they believe themselves to be the fathers of the kids. If they knew otherwise they would not.

tom hulley // Posted 3 August 2008 at 7:23 pm

I am worried that everyone is taking DNA testing as truth. It is a practice based on a theory. Even if the theory turns out to be almost accurate the practice can be flawed. Unfortunately, crime fiction has made people accept fingerprinting and now DNA testing as definite proof but the number of challenges and failures suggest caution.

It was a sad day when men were empowered (even more!) with a theory that gave them control as genetic fathers or denial otherwise.

Maybe all men should pay a paternity tax as most of them are quick to excuse those who squirm out of responsibilities.

Why should women be asked to name a supposed father? What if the night of conception was totally unmemorable for her? Are men to be made to declare who they have had sex with -when they arrive at work and clock in? (Going to be a lot of jealous hands)

Some idiot will be saying next that boys need male role models -don’t they know that they are the problem not the solution behind wayward youth?

Women who have children need support -it is that simple. Patriarchy should pay -that’s men, yes, all of us.

Lindsey // Posted 4 August 2008 at 8:54 am

Slight sideline but another hypocrisy of the Daily Male: They believe that single mothers are the devil BUT if the child producing couple were married then divorced, rather than a couple/cohabiting then split up, they totally accept it (I noticed a few of their popular reporters are divorced mothers lecturing on the morals of others). I think they are using marriage as a class differentiator, obviously ridiculous as registering is not expensive and anyone can make a baby.

sianmarie // Posted 4 August 2008 at 1:56 pm

a lot of men don’t pay child support at all. or they don’t pay enough. FACT. if all men who had children took responsibility for that baby, whether they stay with the mother or not, then these cases wouldn’t be an issue. it takes two people to have a baby, and two people should be financially responsible. if this happened, women wouldn’t have to use the CSA to chase after absent fathers all the time, because those fathers would be facing up to their responsibility.

GrammarPedant // Posted 4 August 2008 at 5:08 pm

That should be blatAntly.


Shea // Posted 5 August 2008 at 12:51 pm

Just want to second what Sianmarie said. The real issue is the £3.8bn outstanding & owed to these children, not the questions about paternity. Routinely testing? DNA pat testing is not perfect, in any test there is a margin of error. What happens where there are an indeterminate number of alleles in common and it is uncertain? Also what should the remedy to this injustice be? That a man who paid child support erroneously can recover this back from the child later? Or that when a young adult finds out who their father is they can present them with a bill for back payments lasting 18 years?

The injustice here is that hundreds of family are denied the support that should be given to them. Not that a tiny minority of men are paying for children that are not their own. Don’t forget that the CSA was a Tory invention to get absent fathers to take responsibility for financially supporting their offspring rather than having the family rely on state support. If these men can’t or won’t pay for their children, it falls on the rest of society to do so (and disproportionately on the mother to do so).

Great point linking to abortion also.

A different Helen // Posted 10 August 2008 at 7:27 pm

Am a bit slow commenting here as I have just got back from holiday. I read the article in the Guardian while I was away and was incensed. The assumption seems to be that because 20% of all paternity tests conducted for the CSA come back negative, the women must be naming the wrong father. When I read the article though, the first question that I wanted answering, which the journalist clearly hadnt bothered to find out, was how are the DNA samples collected? DNA testing might be 99.99% accurate, but only if the DNA sample tested does actually come from the named father. How good are the CSA’s procedures for this, and for ensuring that samples do not get mixed up? Does the father attend a clinic with the mother and child so that all samples are collected together, or are the father’s samples collected separately? If the latter, how are the samples labelled and tracked, and what ID do they ask for? How can they be sure the father hasnt sent a friend along in his place in order to avoid paying thousands of pounds in child maintenance?

Some years ago, I had a DNA test done on my identical twins. This was a zygosity test rather than a paternity test, but the principle is the same. The cheek swabbing kit came in a little package through the post and I collected the samples from my sons myself and sent the samples off to the lab for analysis. This is cheap and easy and makes me wonder if this is how the CSA does it – just sends the DIY DNA collecting kit to the named father in the post. This is a worrying thought, because then there is nothing at all to stop a man who wishes to avoid paying maintenance getting someone else to provide the sample for him. Besides saving himself a huge amount of money, he can also make his ex-partner look like a faithless liar.

I hope that the procedures used are more robust than this, but the CSA is not known for having good administrative procedures, and whilst I have faith that the majority of men are honest and prepared to pay towards the upkeep of their own children, I’m sure there are plenty who would be only too keen to wriggle out of it if they can. I would have thought a good journalist would have checked up on the possibilities of these alternative explanations, but instead he went for the lazy and fashionable woman-blaming tactic. An appalling article.

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