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Sunday, 28 April, 2002, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Parents of tearaways could lose benefit
Graphic showing policeman with children
Tony Blair was "shocked" by truancy figures
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.

The plan was discussed as part of a crime summit at Downing Street earlier this week - but there is cross-party opposition to it.


It's not part of a real concerted plan or network of things to do, it's just an announcement to get the press off their backs

Iain Duncan Smith
Labour MP Diane Abbott has called it "nothing more than a gimmick which will look good on the front pages".

While Labour's Alice Mahon suggested the idea probably came from an "overpaid adviser".

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who suggested that the decision to float the idea had more to do with next week's local elections than fighting crime.

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

Speaking on the BBC's On the Record programme, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott played down the proposal, saying it was nothing more than a possibility.

"We need to tackle the truancy - if that is a possibility of how you might deal with it, I would be prepared to consider it as a possibility."

Truancy figures

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy predicted the proposal will "die a death".

Education Secretary Estelle Morris defended the idea saying parents had responsibilities.

"We are not talking about your child off school for a day with a cold and you lose your child benefit or are financially penalised.

"We are talking about when parents have been warned again and again."

The aim of the measure would be to see whether a financial penalty - like the withdrawal of benefit - could strengthen orders already made by the courts in an attempt to force parents to be stricter with offspring who play truant or commit crimes.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP
Abbott - Scheme will 'only make the poor poorer'

Tony Blair is said to have been shocked to discover that 80% of school children stopped by police in daytime truancy sweeps were accompanied by an adult.

Many families, especially those on low incomes, depend on child benefit which is 15.75 a week for the first child, and 10.55 for each additional child.

It rises to 17.55 a week for a lone parent with one child.

The issue of youth crime has risen to the top of the political agenda again this week, as two 16-year-old brothers were cleared of the murder of schoolboy Damilola Taylor.

Earlier this month the home secretary, David Blunkett, announced that persistent young offenders now face being locked up while they await trial under new powers given to courts.

He also announced the extension of a scheme which compels the mothers and fathers of unruly teenagers to attend special parenting classes.

'Election ploy'

A government spokeswoman confirmed the plan to take away child benefit from parents was one of a series of proposals for cracking down on juvenile crime under discussion.

Gordon Brown is said to be "doubtful" of the proposal, according to the Sunday Telegraph, because a withdrawal of one benefit could mean a family qualified for other benefits or tax credits.

Mr Duncan Smith, appearing on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost, said: "It's just an announcement to get the press off their backs for five or six days [in the run up] to the local elections."

On the same programme, Charles Kennedy said the move would end up damaging children.

Ms Mahon predicted the "daft" idea would face huge opposition within Labour.

"To say 'we are going to take money away from you' to families probably already on inadequate income, how on earth do they think that is going to resolve the problem?" she asked.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Nelson
"Ministers want to put pressure on parents"
Diane Abbott, Labour MP
"It will leave some of our poorest people even worse off"
Mike Aaronson, Save The Children
"Taking away child benefit is really going to penalise children"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Parents of unruly teenagers could have their child benefit taken away - what do you think of the idea?Benefit threat
Is youth crime idea workable?
See also:

24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair sets street crime deadline
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
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