No benefit from cuts

A new package of measures and cash to tackle
truancy was this week overshadowed by the government’s cynical
proposal to cut the child benefit of parents of persistent young
offenders and truants.

Just days after education secretary Estelle
Morris announced a £66m package of measures to tackle truancy,
the government attempted to increase its share of the vote in
today’s local elections by presenting a tough crackdown on youth

Its proposal to penalise parents by cutting
their child benefit will not reduce truancy or youth offending. It
is an unnecessary tool: the courts can already fine parents of
persistent truants, and they can order the parents of those who get
involved in antisocial behaviour to attend parenting classes once a
week for up to three months and of those who truant to ensure their
children go to school for up to a year. The proposal would also
further impoverish those parents who rely on child benefit. Such a
system would also be extremely difficult to administer.

But behind the headline proposal lies a raft
of other measures. These include new and expanded learning support
units and behaviour and support teams to ensure persistent truants
and those children who are excluded from school are still receiving
education. These are welcome moves and the government has provided
the necessary cash to ensure they materialise.

Morris claimed the package would meet the
needs of pupils, teachers and parents. It might help the parents of
children who are excluded and loafing around the house with nothing
else to do.

But it does not meet the needs of parents of
children who are disengaged from school and at risk of getting
involved in youth crime. They need sustained support to educate
them in how to parent effectively and ensure their children develop
into responsible adults. Parenting is one of the most difficult
jobs in the world and most people could benefit from education and
support in carrying out the task.

Children truant and become involved in
antisocial behaviour because of a range of factors. It is incorrect
to assume that poor parenting is always the reason. Therefore
blaming the parents by cutting their child benefit is not the
answer. The government should be looking at family support services
to find solutions to youth crime, not the social security

Poverty is still the key

According to a survey commissioned by the
charity Save the Children, 60 per cent of people say that child
poverty is a serious political issue. So, apparently, does the
government, given Gordon Brown’s pledge to end child poverty within
a generation. To the government’s embarrassment, it emerged last
month that 3.9 million children were still living in poverty, a
drop of only 500,000 since it came to office.

The blame for this lies squarely with the
Conservative spending policy adopted by the government in its first
years, when, for example, the hardships endured by lone parents
were compounded rather than alleviated. Tax credits, targeted
benefits and low unemployment have begun to improve matters, but
the government continues to send out mixed messages about

Social security secretary Alistair Darling has
suggested revising the indicators by which poverty is measured,
exciting suspicion that he merely wants to show the government’s
performance in a better light. This move would be a mistake. The
government must resist the temptation to footle with its long-term
objective of eradicating child poverty.


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