Parents of children who regularly miss school should stop their child benefit payments, Leveling Up secretary Michael Gove has suggested.
Speaking at an event organized by centre-right think tank Onward, the cabinet minister said the idea was initially considered by David Cameron’s coalition government but was blocked by the Lib Dems.
Education unions and poverty campaigners have also opposed the proposal in the past, but Mr Gove said it should be “reviewed” to tackle anti-social behaviour.
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“We have to – especially after COVID – get back to an absolutely rigorous focus on being in school, on supporting kids to be in school,” he said.
“It is often the case that it is delinquent or persistent absence which leads to involvement in anti-social behaviour.
“So one of the ideas we invoked in the coalition years, which the Lib Dems rejected, is the idea that if children are persistently absent then child benefit should stop.
“I think what we need to do is think radically about restoring a moral responsibility.”
Local councils can already fine parents £60 if their children miss school.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT union of school leaders, said berthing privileges were not the answer to improving attendance.
“This is not only wrong, it is also likely to be counterproductive. It is very difficult to see how consigning children to poverty and hunger will improve their school attendance,” he said.
“School staff are already deeply concerned about how many children are living in poverty and the impact this is having on their academic performance and wellbeing.
“Persistent absenteeism can only be successfully dealt with by offering assistance, not punishment.”
Mr Gove was education secretary for most of the coalition years and has long backed the idea of cutting benefits to tackle truancy.
A government report commissioned after the 2011 summer riots said recovering truancy fines through child benefit would “strengthen and simplify the system”.
The prime minister’s spokesman would not comment on the comments at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
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He said he had not seen the full remarks, but told reporters that “if the question is whether parents face sanctions for children missing school, I think they’ve already seen it.”
While there are no plans to change the current policy, the government sees tackling anti-social behavior as a priority and recently announced plans to ban laughing gas as part of a proposed crackdown.
The issue looks set to become a battleground at the next election, with Labor pledging to teach parents of repeat offenders lessons if they win power.