UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that parents of truant children in the UK will have their child benefit reduced unless they pay fines.
Families with one child who skips school consistently will lose six weeks’ worth of their £20 a week child benefit. Current rules dictate that if parents fail to curb their child’s truancy, a local authority will issue a fixed penalty notice of £60, and increase it to £120 after 21 days. Since there’s no obligation to pay this fine, it often goes ignored rather than taken to court.
Instead, the new policy will allow officials to take it automatically after 28 days, reports Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post UK.
The policy is expected to affect 20,000 parents per year.
We are determined to tackle the harm truancy does to a child’s chances in life. There is nothing responsible about allowing your child to go without an education. So for parents who let their child play truant and refuse to pay truancy penalties, we will deduct it from their child benefit.
…I try to do my best to get my children to school every day. For a long time my daughter had 100% attendance. No, they haven’t played truant and I would come down very toughly on them if they ever did.
…The point about this is, if you don’t attend school regularly you get a less good education, you get worse results — and as a result your job prospects are much, much worse and your life chances — the opportunity you have to make the most of your talents — are severely reduced.
Parents of school-age children will also have the right to request childcare addons like breakfast, after-school clubs, and care over the holidays, says Cameron. Childcare providers will be able to request school facilities for these purposes, writes Tom McTague of the Daily Mail.
Last year, 52 million school days in the UK were lost due to students skipping school.
The idea of deducting fines from child benefits was first suggested by Cameron in 2011, and a government adviser on school behavior brought it up again in April of 2012, according to the BBC News.
Families who make more than £50,000 and therefore do not receive the benefit will be prosecuted if they fail to pay fines, according to Andrew Woodcock of the Mirror.
Activists who fight child poverty have expressed disagreement with the policy, and when it was backed by Michael Gove in the last Coalition government it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. The National Union of Teachers said:
Having less money for food and bills will simply create a whole new set of problems.