Gove wants to scrap child benefits payments to parents of truants

Health and Education Policy & Politics

Michael Gove has been accused of “living in a different century” for wanting to stop child benefit payments to parents of children who miss school.

The Levelling-Up secretary has tried three times in 13 years to introduce the policy and claims such sanctions would help restore “an ethic of responsibility” on parents for their children.

Gove said truancy leads to delinquency and that a radical rethink – such as stopping child benefit payments to parents of truants – is needed to combat a problem linked to anti-social behaviour.

Liberal Democrats’s education spokesperson Munira Wilson reacted: “If Michael Gove thinks that the solution to encourage children back to school is to impoverish them, then he is living in a different century.”

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders union, is also highly critical of Gove’s idea, and said: “Not only is this wrong, it is also likely to be counter-productive. It is very hard to see how consigning children to poverty and starvation will improve their school attendance.

“School staff are already deeply concerned by how many children are living in poverty and the impact that has on their academic performance and wellbeing.

“Persistent absence can only be successfully tackled by offering help, not punishment.”

During a post-debate Q&A about the future of the Conservative, hosted by the thinktank Onward on Tuesday (Feb 28), Gove said: “We need to, particularly after Covid, get back to an absolute rigorous focus on school attendance, on supporting children to be in school.

“It is often the case that it is truanting or persistent absenteeism that leads to involvement in antisocial behaviour.

“So one of the ideas that we floated in the coalition years, which the Liberal Democrats rejected, is the idea that if children are persistently absent then child benefit should be stopped.

“I think what we need to do is to think radically about restoring an ethic of responsibility.”

The Guardian reports that when Gove was education secretary in 2010, he failed to persuade Nick Cleggs’s Liberal Democrats – the Conservatives’ coalition partners – of the merits of stopping child benefit payments to parents of children missing school. In 2015 he tried to get then prime minister David Cameron to include the policy in the Conservative party’s manifesto for that year’s general election.

The Times reports that Gove wants the measure included in an action plan he is preparing for prime minister Rishi Sunak on how to reduce anti-social behaviour, which he said is a gateway to more serious offences. The plan for the PM is expected to be published next month.

Scotland’s Daily Record reports: “Downing Street said it was not aware of plans to change or alter current policy.”

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