Dock truants’ benefit, ministers urged | BBC. Behaviour tsar Charlie Taylor was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, explaining why, despite his track record of holistic and child-centred behaviour work, he is now recommending docking £120 from child benefit for parents who don’t pay their £60 fine for truancy.
I believe this is wrong.
It is true that children who truant face a bleaker future. Their educational prospects are, of course, blighted. Statistically they are more likely to get involved in an unwanted teenage pregnancy, more likely to leave school with no qualifications, more likely to be long-term unemployed, and more likely to spend time in prison.
I’m not really surprised that Michael Gove looks at those statistics and says “stop truancy at all costs”, though I’m a little more surprised that Charlie Taylor agrees with him.
I grew up in what is now Hodge Hill constituency — it was Stechford then. Hodge Hill has the lowest educational attainment, as measured by GCSEs and A-levels, of any constituency in England. Likewise, it is among the worst for health outcomes, employment, and the other measures of deprivation. Truanting is a problem in Hodge Hill. However, it’s not a problem that is going to be solved by docking money from child benefit.
Charlie Taylor’s report points out that, of the 127,000 penalty notices issued since their introduction in 2004, around half went unpaid or were withdrawn. His response is to increase the fines to £60 from the current £50 and to double them if unpaid after 28 days, with the money automatically deducted from child benefit.
Coincidentally, they were talking on Today about the difficulty of getting very high earners to pay more than the equivalent of 20% income tax. Not many weeks ago we were facing national furore at the notion that child benefit should be stopped for those earning more than £40,000.
In places like Hodge Hill, many people do not make it into the bottom end of tax. Unemployment is high, earnings are low, many families have just one parent struggling to pack the kids off to school and then move quickly on to part-time job at the minimum wage. Child benefit is all that is keeping these families’ heads above water.
Take £120 away from such a family, and you have not created a stimulus for reattending education, you’ve created a cause for despair. It’s all very well for middle-class people in nice communities to say that ‘it will teach the parents to be a bit more responsible’. The reality is that the kind of people most likely to be hit by these measures are the ones who have struggled the most in responding constructively to pressure.
If we were in America, someone would already have used the term ‘tough love’: hit them where it hurts now, so that they can learn for the future. I see the ‘tough’ bit, but where is the love?