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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Is youth crime benefit threat realistic?
Parents of unruly teenagers could have their child benefit taken away under new proposals to crack down on youth crime.

The prime minister has asked government officials to examine the possibility as part of a range of measures to ensure parents take greater responsibility for their children.

Labour MP Diane Abbott has dismissed it as a "gimmick", comparing it to the swiftly shelved suggestion that police should take drunken louts to cash machines and get them to pay on-the-spot fines.

Chancellor Gordon Brown and Work and Pensions Secretary Alistair Darling are also thought to be opposed to the idea.

What do you think? Is it a sensible proposal to tackle a growing problem or a gimmick doomed to failure?

Will it unfairly hit those struggling to make ends meet? Or is it a fair sanction that will make parents rein in unruly children?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

As parents of a persistent young offender we are totally beside ourselves with grief

Clare, UK
As parents of a persistent young offender we are totally beside ourselves with grief. We have done everything for our daughter of 16 - she has had love, support and everything that goes with having a child. At the age of 13 she started truanting and eventually was expelled from school. She ended up being a young offender and her education ended up in the local 'sin bin'. We have supported her in all her traumas of being a teenager - she does know that we love her and obviously we are grief stricken by her behaviour at school and in the community. Take the Child Benefit away from us - I don't care - all I want is my daughter to conform in society, have a good education and grow up to be a responsible adult, which is all my husband and I have instilled in her in her growing up.
Clare, UK

I think that parents should have a responsibility for their children and if they were to lose benefit especially in the recent case of the three children in the same family in Gillingham it would hit them hard and make them think possibly. In general the majority of parents are decent people so they have nothing to fear. Also if the people who have their benefit stopped can show that they are trying to control their children even if it requires specialist services such as social workers and child psychologists, as in my case with my adopted son, then they should be able to retain it.
Keith Clear, England

Surely the children in question will have been fined in a magistrates' court in order for their parents to be penalised? If this is the case, then isn't the resulting fine an equivalent punishment, and easier to administer? The only way to really impact on children's behaviour in general society would be to absolutely, strictly ban all forms of media advertising that is aimed at them and not their parents, particularly on television. This is the only way that control and influence of a child's development can be returned to their rightful tutors - their parents. Advertisers consistently expound a paradox that we all appear to accept happily: on the one hand they say that their adverts don't harm children's values, they don't persuade people to smoke, their effects on society are little and benign. On the other hand they collectively spend millions on research and are masters of manipulation - this is why they command such exorbitant fees; they sell themselves as masters of persuasion. How can they be both?

It isn't just poor families who have bad children, what about Tony Blair's son or Prince Harry, have they not been in a spot of bother in the past? I think it will be a wake up call to parents and hopefully they will start to discipline their children properly, or get them the help they need from professionals.
Morgan Pugh, UK

Many children already go without so that parents can get their beer and fags and nights out

Mrs. S.A.Hayman, England
My initial reaction, was that those who receive Income Support, will probably have their benefit increased to offset the loss of CHB. However if direct deductions were made to compensate victims, this may be a better option, in the way fines are deducted now. This will probably increase the amount of dodgy dealing which goes on, in order to supplement claimants income. ie. theft, dealing, and benefit fraud. Another thought, was to take the children out of "harms way", eg. into a boarding situation away from whatever influences their behaviour, and whilst they are away, put the deliberately negligent or socially incompetent parents into an education programme in parenting skills. Positive measures targeting the causes of problem children need to be taken.

If the parents refuse to co-operate with parenting orders they should be punished. If they are unable to cope, they should be supported, and children should learn to respect themselves as well as others, and be given a positive lead. We've lost our sense of community, and with it mutual respect. We need more carrot and less stick. Assistance, not financial penalties. Many children already go without so that parents can get their beer and fags and nights out. Cutting benefits to those already in need will only make mattes worse, and do nothing for the delinquent well off.
Mrs. S.A.Hayman, England

This is a good way of making people take some responsibility for their behaviour. The Government has been too soft for too long with parents who claim to have no control over their children and allow them to behave as badly as they like.
Claire Merrit, UK Wales

Much research evidence shows that children in trouble with the law have difficult relationships with their parents and are frequently, if erratically, subject to harsh physical punishment from them. Fining parents of such children, who are frequently struggling to keep afloat financially is unlikely to produce a more supportive and encouraging home environment.

This is another simplistic, headline seeking proposal that diverts attention from the complexities of providing these young people with an environment that provokes them into taking responsibility for their actions. There are no quick fixes and the consequences of soundbite policies are rarely explored.
Mike, Brixton, UK

On the flip side to this, will good hardworking children with responsible parents receive a child benefit bonus?
Janette, UK

Whether you are the worst or best parent in the world, you can never keep an eye on your child 100% of the time.

Grant, UK
Only the UK could come up with such a unworkable idea! Whether you are the worst or best parent in the world, you can never keep an eye on your child 100% of the time. These kids will now see that they are getting off even more as the buck is passed to their parents. No, the only way to solve this problem is to get a change a change in the law that will punish these young thugs properly no matter what their age may be.
Grant, UK

Youth crime is just the latest bandwagon / political football. There always was youth crime and there always will be. In my day it was stealing apples, now it is stealing phones. If we could stop the executive crime and bankrupt politics that causes so much inequality in society then people wouldn't see the sense in crime.
Colin, UK

The situation of poorly behaving youth is present in many countries now. The only commonality between them is the media which supplies their view of the world. Those who sell 'stuff' to youth have learned to sell it not to potential adults in training, but, rather, to self-empowering unformed social 'units' encouraged to gratify themselves.
Joseph H. Broyles, USA

To many parents, having children is an 'open sesame' to a large range of benefits

John, France
If parents can't or won't bring up their children to be responsible adults, which is their prime duty as parents, then take them away to boarding schools where they can be educated and given instruction in how to behave. The child benefit stops because the parents no longer have children. This will work because to many parents, having children is an 'open sesame' to a large range of benefits from housing, clothing and furniture to holidays and cash.
John, France

Removing benefits from parents of unruly children is a step in the right direction but will not work for a variety of reasons. These kids have no respect for their teachers (if they even attend school), the police, or even their parents. They won't be bothered if their parents lose benefits as a result of their actions. These kids are self-financing. If they want new trainers, a mobile or smart clothes, they will just go out and steal to obtain them. In most cases their material wealth will be much greater than their parents'. They want maximum gain for minimum input into society and will never entertain the thought of following the conventional route of education and hard work to obtain those material possessions.
Fatdog, UK

We don't allow people to drive a car until and unless they have proved their competence to do so safely and responsibly. We don't even allow people to adopt children until they have proved they are competent and responsible enough to do so. It's a shame there's no humane way of preventing people from having children until they have proved they are fit to do so!
Jane, Wales, UK

Those rebelling against their parents will see it as an added reason to misbehave

Bernard, UK
This is just a total cop-out. It will penalise parents whose children are unruly despite their best efforts, but do nothing to stop the children themselves, in fact those who are "rebelling" against their parents will see it as an added reason to misbehave. The only real treatment is to recognise that the old assumption that prevents children under the age of 10 being prosecuted at all, and means that anyone under the age of 16 can get away with virtually anything as well, is wrong. Take them off the streets and they cannot be committing crime.
Bernard, UK

Fine, let's do it. Does this mean the Blairs will have to hand back their child benefit after the behaviour of their son?
Darren Stephens, UK

Taking away child benefit is not a new idea and has always been rejected before as unhelpful. Police are already in schools where needed, (there used to be a lot more of them). The government's thinking is very muddled. If 80% of those stopped in the streets are with parents, who are the so-called out-of-control youngsters "terrorising" our city centres? Many will be excluded or not in school for other reasons anyway. They haven't yet got a handle on the problem, just the headlines.

Children miss school for a whole variety of reasons and it's not a crime for them to do so. Most parents can never expect to be convicted as the process is complicated, expensive for LEAs and penalises those schools who are willing to admit they have a problem rather than just taking the parents' word for it. It's just window-dressing. The real job is breaking down barriers between marginalised families and schools. Just imagine how positive they would be when the school has dobbed them in for truanting AND they've had their benefits taken away! We'd never see the kids again!
Ben, UK

Can you prove that this money is being spent where it belongs in the first place?

Lorita, UK
It's time that parents of these children are forced to take responsibility. What is lacking today is accountability. The new idea is a start, but not nearly enough to force the issue home - that parents are responsible for keeping control of their children and teaching them some respect. The other problem that we have today is a generation of children resulting from single parent families and particularly those who have been thrown free accommodation and benefits all the way. Maybe taking this money away will make the poor poorer but can you prove that this money is being spent where it belongs in the first place?
Lorita, UK

My daughters and I are really fed up with the comments about single parent children always being the ones to cause problems. I am a single parent of two wonderful girls who love going to school and who help the older people in our neighbourhood, to carry their shopping and visit them to see how they are. I know many single parents who have children the same as mine, and I feel let down by people who are always calling us "single parents" when we do our very best to see that our children are brought up well, even without the help of two parents.
Elayne Orange, England

I welcome Tony Blair's announcement

Phil, UK
Speaking as a teacher, who has to deal with these disruptive pupils on a daily basis, I welcome Tony Blair's announcement. This type of measure, which makes parents accept responsibility for their children's actions, is long overdue.
Phil, UK

There is no single solution to the problem of youth crime. In the end, if the money being spent on locking up people was spent, instead, on education and on giving these people a stake in this modern society, then we might sort the problem out. But pigs only fly on TV adverts, so I'll be keeping my burglar alarm switched on!
Max, UK

Why don't we try it? Most people I have spoken to about this idea think it is good. We are the ones paying the NI and tax. Can we have something we want for a change?
Ian, England

The politically correct have got their way

Scott, USA
What do you expect when you prosecute parents for disciplining their children? The politically correct have got their way and now punishing a bad kid is no longer allowed. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
Scott, USA

It isn't targeting the poor; it's targeting those who don't care about anything. Plenty of 'the poor' manage to instil the lesson to enable their young to tell the difference between right and wrong (my parents did). To say this policy (let's face it, it's only a soundbite anyway) picks on the poor insults the poor!
Mike, UK

Another week: another hare-brained scheme from the Home Office.
Derrick, UK

Spin, spin and more spin! Here's a few hints for Mr Blair:
1. More police with greater powers.
2. Less politically correct hand wringing sympathy and more punishment for convicted criminals.
3. More prisons and borstal type institutions.
It may cost a few million pounds but seeing as we are one of the richest countries in the modern world I can't see a single valid excuse or justification for not doing this.
Steve, Merseyside

It's an interesting idea. Although, I feel of far more interest would be to educate the judiciary into actually making the punishment fit the crime. Perhaps if the government and the judiciary together practised what they preached then far more teenagers would take law and order more seriously.
Jacqui Sanwell, England

Their parents were probably brought up in a similar atmosphere of neglect

Clive, Australia
This is like Alice Through the Looking Glass! I know - here's a great idea - let's make the parents of unruly kids suffer financially, putting them under even more stress and strain and then expect them to be able to control their kids better. Brilliant, Tony. Inspiring. Pass the chocolate tea-pot said the mad-hatter!

The obvious answer is to give power back to the police, courts and teachers to instil some social values into the kids. Their parents obviously aren't up to the job because they were probably brought up in a similar atmosphere of neglect. Lock up the kids and force them to actually face up to what they've done. Also, whilst inside, introduce them to successful people who've come from similar backgrounds as they have - the only successful people a lot of our kids our exposed to is 'Terry' who can get into the newest BMW in under 10 seconds. Of course, it'll never happen because it would upset the pathetically PC institutions to whom Britain's social policy is held hostage. Pathetic.
Clive, Australia (ex-UK)

Don't just think about it Tony Blair, show the UK you mean it. Do it, take the benefit away from parents who know their child are truanting from school. As Mr Blunkett has stated, children who do crime and laugh at the courts, will go to prison. Great idea - again make sure the courts back you up in the courtroom, not slap their hands and say come back in two months time for your case to be heard. Put the young thugs away, then one will see crime on the streets go away.
R Richardson British, Florida

Yes, let's treat the disease again and not the cause. Have these politicians ever stopped to wonder why the youth, teenagers, adults ever show no respect towards either the system or its proponents? Well for these supposedly highly educated, highly paid (with respect to the less well off in our society) social engineers I supply the cause, you cannot expect the youth to respect anything or not to indulge in crime when all they see day in day out is a relentless stream of criminal, morally corrupt and divisive television, game media and not to mention, corrupt business who have plundered the planet and mortgaged their futures to possible extinction. Why wouldn't they live for the moment? After all the children or youth we have are a product of the generations before. And not just their parents but society as a whole. If you take more away from them then they become more bitter, more criminal. Tackle the cause, it will yield better results.
Michael Johnson, Australia

Once parents realise that cash is at stake they're sure to take action

Hiren K, UK
Of course it's a good idea - once parents realise that cash is at stake they're sure to take action - only way to hit them where it hurts - give it a test run and see!
Hiren K, UK

Many of the problems of society today are caused by bad or irresponsible parenting. Every parent should be asking themselves, every evening, "Where are my children, what are they doing, and with who?" I think that obligatory social responsibility courses should be held for persistent young offenders AND their parents. Any further trouble thereafter should result in some sort of punishment for BOTH.
Roger, England

What this suggests about the English psyche is quite dark

Jude, UK
Who said it is only the children of those on benefits who are causing this problem? I know many who would be classed as middle and upper class. This is just another way of saving money on the poverty stricken or are we truly being asked to believe such a sweeping generalisation? What this suggests about the English psyche is quite dark... when something goes wrong blame the poorest and if possible make life harder for them... rather than trying to solve the true root of the problem.
Jude, UK

1. A Stalinist idea.
2. The ONLY way to deal with young people who are persistent offenders is the old idea of borstals run along military lines. It works.
3. Tony Blair comes out with these ridiculous ideas time and time again.
4. The sooner Gordon Brown becomes prime minister the better.

What better way to get back at your parents?

Ryan Corcoran, Austin, TX, USA
Has it ever occurred to anyone that maybe those doing the crime might be responsible for their actions? I don't know, call it a hunch. What better way to get back at your parents than to have the law punish them for your actions?
Ryan Corcoran, Austin, TX, USA

Yet again another soundbite from Labour. Let's face facts under both Conservative and Labour governments this problem has got worse. The solution is simple: take the criminals off the streets. Once in secure units then let's try the liberal approach - meeting their victims, education, help finding work etc. But all we seem to get is more of initiatives, none of which solve the problem.
Andrew Kinge, UK

Child benefit is supposed to benefit children directly, not be a political weapon for parental behaviour. Children who play truant often come from really difficult family backgrounds, often they are the main carers of parents who are sick or have drug or alcohol issues of their own. Removing benefits from these children will simply push them into poverty and add to their problems not solve them. The government should give up on this one, and find ways instead of getting excluded and truant kids into projects that help them not hurt them.
Barbara, UK

It is far too little, far too late. It sounds like hollow spin from a government afraid of a French style backlash in forthcoming local elections.
Derek, UK

It won't make half of them think twice about snatching a mobile telephone

Edward, US
Forget about depriving parents of benefits - it's clear Labour as always is going for the politically correct way to solve the misery inflicted by many young tearaways on society. It won't stop them, it won't even make half of them think twice about snatching a mobile telephone or stealing an elderly persons' pension. The government and its politically correct allies must understand that parents, teachers, police officers and the courts must have the powers restored back to them that have been so savagely eroded in the last 30 or so years. Don't many of us believe a short sharp shock, be it in the form of a boot camp, six lashes of the cane or two weeks chained together with other thugs helping tidy our countryside and inner city areas work better? I'm sure John Prescott would agree!
Edward, US

It saddens me to read those replies so far from the smug comfortable majority who have never had to deal with severe poverty and who have the skills to deal with life successfully. We should be trying to help, not make matters worse. That this could come from a Labour government just shows how far Tony and his cronies have dragged the party to the Right. This is worthy of the Iron Lady herself.
Adam, UK

It is fair. It's about time something like this happened, since their unruly children can't be hit or flogged - hit them elsewhere. Unfortunately I cannot see it happening because of the PC image Labour wants to maintain.
Mike Baker, UK

The government could be accused of child cruelty

Neil Small, Scotland
Here we go again with yet another radical "nanny state" idea. In principle it looks great, but be realistic, if you start taking away benefits then you might encourage more crime due to a shortage of money, and if children then suffer the government could be accused of child cruelty.
Neil Small, Scotland

This is how it'll work: those not on income support will be able to afford to go without the whole 15 or so child benefit is these days. Those on income support will have their child benefi taken away at one end and added straight back into their income support (as it'll no longer be an income), thus losing nothing. I worked for the Social Security for fourteen years and saw these kind of pointless policies go through time after time...Blair, don't bother wasting taxpayers' money with such hare-brained and gimmicky schemes.
Daren, USA

While I may sympathise with the idea of removing child benefits from parents whose children play truant and commit petty crime, I wonder how can parents who are both made to work to avoid losing their own benefits can keep an eye on their offspring!
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

I was a chronic truant, but I got the best exam results in my year

Louise, UK
Why do the government keep equating truanting with tearaway behaviour? The levels of truanting ought to initiate a look at schools to see why children hate them. I was a chronic truant, but I got the best exam results in my year. I would have gone mad locked away from the world each and every day. I never did any damage to anyone by truanting.
Louise, UK

About time. Unruly teenagers simply become rogue adults. The whole approach to crime and anti-social behaviour must do a rapid turn-about toward accountability, firm punishment, and victim rights.
Mr H. Harden, England

Suggesting that this will provide an incentive for parents to rein their errant offspring in is crazy. Can someone, please, acknowledge the fact that these kids do actually have minds of their own, that they know what they're doing is wrong and just don't give a damn?

Something needs to be done about poor discipline, but this will not be popular. It would have been far less controversial to have introduced a good parenting benefit at the last budget. This could, for example be an extra 10 a month to be withheld on the same basis as Blair's proposal. It also puts the emphasis on rewarding good parents, rather than punishing bad parents.
Ben Fryer, England

I think Ben Fryer's idea about a good parenting benefit sounds really interesting. Something needs to be done without making people even poorer.
Jessica, UK

I totally agree with the suggested withdrawal of benefits for those parents of unruly children. It is appalling to see the rising debts created by such tearaways in the forms of fines that are paid through the benefits they already receive. Tax-payers are getting wise to the real cost of juvenile crime.
Martyn Bradley, Worcester, UK

This measure would probably result in even more street crime

John Kirk, England
I am entirely in favour of punishing parents who routinely fail to control their children, but threatening to stop a source of income which is vital to some struggling families' survival is no less than cruel. Such a prospect represents a Damocles Sword wielded by a heartless bully - and it is a credit to Diane Abbott and others that they have apparently recognised this fact and rebelled.
Chris B, England

Sometimes Tony Blair should think before he (or Alastair Campbell) speaks. He is so desperate for public approval that seemingly every day he has to say something he sees as being popular , to maintain his ratings. This measure would not work, and would probably result in even more street crime when the children are not being fed as a result of their parents losing benefit.
John Kirk, England

It's a good idea in principle from Blair, but what does he know? He was never raised on a council estate in a deprived area. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. If Blair carries on with these outbursts of unpractical ideas he will become the Prince Philip of British politics.
Alan Perry, Great Britain

Child benefits are derisory. Childcare for pre-school children almost non-existent. Far more support both social and financial should be available for all low income families and single parents. The children caught truanting are already deeply disadvantaged as are their parents. They all need help not sanctions.
Juliana Uhart, UK

Money is a great motivator and this might make some parents think about what their kids are up to

Kee, UK
These penalties need imposing, but they also need to be targeted. This penalty sounds a good idea, provided we don't just make up the difference in other benefits and make the whole system look stupid. But there are going to be cases where it will make no difference - where it is unlikely to affect the parent's behaviour because they simply are such losers, or because they have plenty of money anyway. In these cases, alternative targeted measures like mentors for the children, and heavy fines for the parents would be appropriate.
Jeremy, England

It's time that parents took responsibility for the behaviour of their children. Money is a great motivator and this might make some parents think about what their kids are up to. My fear is that this is all really spin and the government will not go through with it. It will all be forgotten in a week.
Kee, UK

The only way to make them see sense is to stop their tobacco money

PMS, England
Now we may be getting somewhere. These parents have failed and the only way to make them see sense is to stop their tobacco money. Many low income families bring their children up as respectable citizens. This does not apply only to low income income families. There are well dressed families where the children are out of control and I think all these people would be upset at having their child allowance stopped. Go for it Tony. Go with the people for once.
PMS, England

It will certainly grab the attention of irresponsible parents, however is there a danger of the children using the system to gain some form of control over their parents by threatening to be bad, knowing it will hurt the parent financially? Personally I feel a fine system would work better where parents are fined for their children's bad behaviour on a per incident basis.
Simon, UK

Will Mr Blair then dock the pay of social workers who fail to control the delinquents in their care?

What is needed long-term is a return to old-fashioned discipline in schools

RH, England
Youth crime is entirely the result of disempowering teachers, police and parents from disciplining children. When I was at school you could get the slipper from teachers or get a clout from the bobby on the beat, and if you told your parents you got the same again at home. The lack of discipline nowadays has been going on for so long that yobby kids have grown up into yobby parents. What is needed long-term is a return to old-fashioned discipline in schools. After a generation or two of this sort of education I guarantee we would have parents who could reinforce the concept of pride in belonging to the family, the town, the country.
RH, England

Presumably, after some of RH's 'old-fashioned discipline', the children of this country would be the fitter to resume their allotted roles in life - either as wage slaves in minimum wage jobs, or as cannon fodder in Tony Blair's and Bush's wars.
Nigel Baldwin, UK

How immoral can this government get? Don't take bread away from children.
Zacc, UK

It's about time someone took more than bread away from these young thugs. Stopping their parents' benefit is a good idea but will this government actually do it or will they listen to the do-gooders as they have in the past? I have been a victim of youth crime and would support any idea that may make these hooligans and their parents think twice before setting out on a spree of vandalism. We need to act and act NOW.
Louise, UK

The sad thing about this for me is that Diane Abbott being MP for Stoke Newington and Hackney will have had first hand experience of the troubles caused by a tiny minority of delinquent kids. What will she suggest that society do to stop these kids? Parents at the end of the day do have a responsibility for their kids. Ask anyone whose being a victim of crime what they feel rather than do-gooders moralising about bread being taken from children.
Steve, UK

See also:

28 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Parents of tearaways could lose benefit

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