Hands Off Child Benefits!

Demonstration outside parliament on January 11th against the Welfare Reform Bill
Demonstration outside parliament on January 11th against the Welfare Reform Bill

TEACHERS’ unions and children’s charities yesterday condemned government plans to raid the Child Benefits of families whose children have unauthorised absences from school.

Tory-LibDem coalition ‘behaviour tsar’, Charles Taylor urged that ‘truancy fines’ should be taken directly from child-benefit payments, claiming the current system of penalty notices is ‘ineffective’.

Taylor was asked by Education Secretary Gove to report on the issue of school attendance following the youth uprising last August.

His report, published yesterday, called for truancy fines to be increased from £50 to £60 and that if they remain unpaid after 28 days, they should then be doubled to £120, and automatically seized from child benefit payments.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned: ‘Deducting money from child benefit will have huge financial repercussions for many families.

‘Having less money for food and bills will simply create a whole new set of problems. Parents need to be part of the solution and not be further alienated from the education of their children.

‘We need properly resourced support systems, run by the local authority, which schools can call upon to deal with hard core truancy. With local authority budgets being so extensively cut this is increasingly difficult to achieve and is a reflection of the short-sightedness of this Government’s policies.

‘Replacing the repetitive test and targets culture of our schools with a relevant and flexible curriculum would certainly help to ensure all pupils remained engaged in education.’

Imran Hussain, Head of Policy, Child Poverty Action Group said: ‘Child poverty is already expected to rise as a consequence of this government’s policies.

‘Dropping more children into poverty is not the answer to truancy. Courts already have tough powers, including imprisonment, to deal with truancy.’

He added: ‘Fining poor families or cutting child benefit will undoubtedly lead to worse health and education outcomes and in the long term do more damage than good.’

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group, responded: ‘Child benefit has been frozen. We know that it’s spent on meeting the cost of children, that’s what it’s for, but families are also facing a lot of austerity cuts – £18bn of benefit cuts. The Institute for Fiscal studies says there will be 800,000 more children in poverty by 2020.’

Family Action Chief Executive Helen Dent said: ‘Fining parents is not the best way to improve achievement and reduce truancy.

‘We know from working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families that the reason children are not in school often relates to problems parents are experiencing.

‘Docking child benefit will not improve outcomes for children, it will put more pressure on parents whose budgets are already being squeezed by cuts to welfare support and rising food and fuel prices.’

Alison Ryan, education policy adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: ‘Putting up fines is likely to hit the most vulnerable families and risks alienating them and their children even further from education.

‘Vulnerable families often need a range of solutions to support them such as parent support workers, Sure Start Centres to help parents who struggle with parenting, and mental health and social services to help tackle problems in chaotic home lives.

‘But government cuts to local authority budgets are hitting many of these support services, with Sure Start Centres closing and cuts to education psychologists and behaviour management staff.’