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Law research examines latest "hard-line" Government proposal

18th February 2016

The Government’s proposal to remove child benefits from parents of young people who truant will penalise the country’s most disadvantaged families, according to a Northumbria University expert.

Dr Raymond Arthur, researcher and reader in law at Northumbria Law School, said the proposal – which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in October last year - will harm the most vulnerable in society and further compound their problems.

David Cameron said the system must be changed because truancy was harmful to children's life chances. In August 2011 following the riots in London, a similar proposal was made in a Government e-petition, which called for rioters and their families to lose their welfare benefits and council homes. This was the first e-petition to receive more than 100,000 signatures.

Dr Raymond Arthur - WebDr Arthur’s paper - 'Troubling times for young people and families with troubles – responding to truancy, rioting and families struggling with adversity’ - considers whether the August 2011 riots in London created the environment for justifying cuts in public spending by shifting responsibility for crime and crime control from the criminal justice system onto vulnerable young people and low-income families.

He said: “Despite David Cameron’s promise to do ‘all we can to support every family – and every kind of family’ this proposal reduces the responsibility of society, encourages a blaming culture that does not take account of the full circumstances.

“The Government’s proposal to penalise parents ignores the complex problems that so many families in this country endure. Demonising parents, like demonising children, disregard the crucial impact of poverty, insecurity and poor living conditions. In the early years of children’s lives, the aim should be to strengthen families, enabling them to play a full part in controlling their children’s behaviour, and not to disadvantage families or to take responsibility away from them.”

The Institute of Public Policy Research found that in an overwhelming majority of the areas worst affected by the riots in London, youth unemployment and child poverty were significantly higher than the national average.

Dr Arthur added: “The Government’s proposal to withdraw benefits from parents of children who truant represents a very hard-line, moralistic and discriminatory approach to poorer parents. It allows for particular types of families, namely, working class and single parent families, to be labelled as problem families who terrorise their communities.

“Poor families tend to be single mother families and if a 16-year-old boy refuses to go to school, there’s often only so much a single mum can do. It feels like the proposed answer to this problem is making single mums poorer by taking their benefits.

“If children aren’t attending school, then we need to find out why that’s happening. A lot of families can’t control their teenage children; what these families need is support, not further punishment.”

Northumbria Law School is the most improved law school in the UK in terms of internationally recognised research provision. Half of all research outputs in law have been assessed as either world leading or internationally excellent.

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