Parents of truanting pupils could have child benefit stopped, says Gove

Parents who fail to ensure their children attend school regularly could have their child benefit payments stopped, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has suggested.

Speaking at the Onward centre right think tank, Mr Gove said the idea was originally considered by the coalition government under David Cameron but was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

He suggested that it could now be re-considered as part of a drive to restore “an ethic of responsibility”.

“We need to – particularly after Covid – get back to an absolute rigorous focus on school attendance, on supporting children to be in school,” he said.

“It is often the case that it is truanting or persistent absenteeism that leads to involvement in anti-social behaviour.

“So, one of the ideas that we floated in the coalition years, which the Liberal Democrats rejected, is the idea that if children are persistently absent then child benefit should be stopped.”

His comments, during a question and answer session, followed a wide-ranging speech on the future of conservatism in which he stressed the need to rebuild a sense of community.

He warned that an “increasingly powerful and destructive force” of radical social activism identity politics was undermining support for traditional UK democratic values by portraying it as a “pirate society”.

“The desire to impute guilt and the demand, in particular through cries for decolonisation, that the current success of free societies like ours should be seen as solely built on expropriation and exploitation is intended to delegitimise our shared values,” he said.

“If the United Kingdom is seen as a pirate society then our pride in our democratic traditions can be depicted as misplaced.

“Our national solidarity, the wealth we owe to free markets and the openness to inquiry we owe to free speech, can be seen as counterfeit.”

In an apparent reference to the controversy over trans rights, Mr Gove said there was a clear need for “objective scientific truth” in human biology.

“Emotion can’t change your chromosomes. No cause is so noble that you can manufacture the evidence. The authority of reason and the integrity of truth must be upheld,” he said.

At the same time he said that trust and confidence in many of the country’s most important institutions – from Parliament to the police and from universities to broadcasters – was being eroded and needed to be restored.

“The police, in many areas, have been less visible on our streets and more visible in championing fashionable social causes,” he said.

“If vice-chancellors enjoy handsome pay packets but students have limited contact time with teachers; if museums and theatres are ambivalent about our national culture; if charities seem susceptible to sectional political campaigning rather than truly inclusive philanthropy, then the institutions of which we are, rightly, so proud, risk losing the authority on which their, and our, success depends.”

Mr Gove said the UK also needed a national economic strategy with a “bias towards investment in production”, ending over-reliance on sectors like financial services.

“That means recognising that a ‘butler’ economy which attracts international capital by serving it, through the provision of financial and business services, no-questions-asked property transactions and a bias towards rentiers can never be truly resilient,” he said.

“Rather than being an entrepot, a bazaar and a duty-free exchange, a strong economy must also make, manufacture, create, innovate and shape.”

Downing Street said it was not aware of plans to change or alter current policy.