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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Blair defiant over child benefit plan
Tony Blair is refusing to back down over a controversial proposal to cut benefit payments to parents of out-of-control children.

The prime minister is said to be "unapologetic" about the idea which has been attacked as an unworkable "gimmick" by members of his own party.

People are sick and tired of kids who should be in school running amok in town centres

The prime minister's official spokesman
Welfare campaigners claim it would fly in the face of Labour's commitment to ending child poverty.

And the idea has been branded a pre-election stunt by other political parties.

But Mr Blair believes it should be seriously considered, although he says no decisions have yet been taken.

He told BBC News: "We are examining the issue of when people are paid substantial amounts of benefits by the state and their children are persistently truanting, committing offences.

"Is it really fair that they owe no sense of responsibility in return?"

'Running amok'

Amid widespread opposition to the proposal, Mr Blair's spokesman said: "If people think the idea has been raised to be shot down, they can think again.

"The prime minister does not shrink from taking difficult or controversial decisions if he thinks they are right."

Damian Green, shadow education secretary
Damian Green says the plan is, at best, half-baked

Mr 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.

Cutting benefits would be used to strengthen existing court orders forcing parents to be stricter with children who play truant or commit crimes.


Earlier, Work and Pensions Minister Alistair Darling appeared less enthusiastic, stressing the idea was merely "one of a number" being considered.

It works directly against the government's major policies to end child poverty

Hilton Dawson, Labour MP
He refused to comment on newspaper reports that he was among the cabinet ministers against the idea.

Mr Darling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The test for me is - would it work? Would it be effective?"

That followed a lukewarm reception from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, speaking on BBC One's On the Record programme on Sunday.

There was a warmer welcome, however, from Education Secretary Estelle Morris, who said the proposal could work as part of a wider package of measures.

Family relationships

Labour MP Hilton Dawson, who chairs the all-party children's group, said he thought it was a bad idea.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP
Abbott - Scheme will 'only make the poor poorer'
"It seems to me that it works directly against the government's major policies to end child poverty in this country and it is not terribly practical."

He said it would make "family relationships" more difficult and undermine social work with families.


There was criticism too from shadow education secretary Damian Green, who described the ideas as "at best, half-baked".

One of the many problems was that the proposal would penalise the siblings of unruly children, said Mr Green.

"This can be consigned to the dustbin that includes the idea of frogmarching yobs up to put their credit cards into ATMs so they can take their fine out straight away," he told Today.

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy predicted the proposal would "die a death".

His party believes incentives rather than penalties are the best action against truancy.

'Daft idea'

Labour MPs have also been openly critical,with Diane Abbott calling the idea "nothing more than a gimmick which will look good on the front pages".

Her backbench colleague Alice Mahon said the "daft" idea - which she blamed on an "overpaid adviser" - would face huge opposition within Labour.

'Blunt instrument'

Many families, especially those on low incomes, depend on child benefit - 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 Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said it was "short-sighted" of the government to float the possibility it could be cut.

A spokesman for the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders warned the idea, if implemented, was more likely to increase youth offending.

And the charity Save the Children, which launched a campaign against child poverty on Monday, described the suggestion on child benefit as a "blunt instrument".

The Low Pay Unit dismissed the idea as "gesture politics" and said it would be counterproductive in the long run.

The BBC's Robin Chrystal
"He's not backing down"
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Parents also have a responsibility"
Mike Aaronson, Save The Children
"Taking away child benefit is really going to penalise children"

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:

29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Truant plan sparks split
24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair sets street crime deadline
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
28 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Child benefit
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