With the nation virtually bankrupt, we need to find savings at all levels of public finance. My policy, to link Child Benefit to school attendance, will not only make savings but instil a sense of responsibility on all parents and guardians.
According to the ONS, there are over 11.5 million children under 16, all eligible for Child Benefit starting from £20 for the first child. Payments to subsequent children vary between £11.50 and 17.50. The number receiving the benefit increases significantly if you include those up to the age of 19 years who are still in education. The total paid out annually exceeds £13 billion.
The system of child benefit awards has changed little since it was renamed form family allowance to Child Benefit in 1977. Every child has been entitled to the benefit regardless of how much their parents earn or how much they have in their bank accounts. It becomes an automatic entitlement as soon as a child is born and I definitely support the allowance.
However, I feel we are missing a trick here by not introducing some simple measures to make society a little more accountable. Since all children are expected to be at school until they are at least 16 years, I can’t see why we can’t tweak the system so that the school or the education authority administers the benefit and awards it in lieu at the end of each month, based on attendance. Parents and guardians will continue to receive the benefit in the normal way until the child starts school. From there on, the benefit would be paid to the parents/guardians but linked to the child’s school attendance until they are 16.
This will help to concentrate people’s minds on their children’s education as well as giving the schools and teachers the power to hold people accountable. Now there will always be those who will simply do not attend no matter what, but this way, the law-abiding continue to benefit and those that don’t, feel it in the pocket.
For those who will argue that the child benefit is a vital part of the income for some families and it shouldn’t be means-tested, I am not arguing that we take it away. All I am suggesting is that it’s incentivised so that for a family of four children the prospect of losing £60 pounds will be a big enough deal to address truancy. As Child Benefit is not linked to any other benefit a family gets, it will not significantly compromise the family’s ability to survive. In fact, most people could probably live without child benefit. However, if the benefit did stop, everyone will know why and how to remedy it.
Of course there will be exceptional cases where a child is off on long-term sick leave or is on authorised absence. The school will know this from their records and will be in a position to make adjustments accordingly.
Under my proposal where you only get the benefit if your child is in school, we would have saved £33 million. Hopefully it would also have gone some way towards addressing the 100,000 pupils who are unaccounted for each year and the thousands who believe it is their God given right to receive child benefit irrespective of what they do and how they behave. The age of austerity calls for greater responsibility on the part of us all.