Benefits threat to parents of tearaways

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A Cabinet row was looming last night over a threat to withdraw child benefit from "feckless" parents in moves by Tony Blair to make them responsible for their children's misdemeanors.

The Prime Minister was facing a revolt from his most senior Cabinet ministers over the plan to cut child benefit for parents who fail to stop their children playing truant. The plan emerged from the Cobra Cabinet committee on reducing street robberies.

Other proposals under discussion include withdrawing housing benefit from tenants to force landlords to stop allowing their rented properties being used as drug dens or for other anti-social behaviour.

It is part of a wider Government agenda – revealed in last week's IoS – for forcing parents and NHS patients to accept responsibilities as well as rights. Patients could be fined for missing NHS appointments or abusing the 999 call-out system.

Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, will tomorrow reinforce the Government's determination to make parents accountable for truancy by their children. She will be following up findings showing that sweeps in shopping centres discovered many children play truant while accompanied by an adult.

Mr Blair is desperate to ensure delivery on his promises to get on top of rising street crime, but his senior ministers are angry he is threatening to make poverty worse in some of the most deprived areas.

Ministers thought to be wary of the proposal include Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister.

It threatens to rebound on the Prime Minister like the widely-ridiculed initiative to cut down on street yobs by giving powers to police to march them off to cash dispensers to pay instant fines.

Last week, Mr Blair promised to have street crime under control by the end of September. The committee charged with the task of delivering on his promise is now looking at a wide range of measures to curb young criminals by bringing their parents to account.

A Government source said: "We are already taking measures to tackle this issue of parents rights and responsibilities but nothing has yet been agreed or decided."

There are fears that poorer families will be hit, but the criminal behaviour of the children will not be changed.

A No 10 spokeswoman said Mr Blair had been "astonished" by recent figures showing that 80 per cent of truants caught in shopping centres were with an adult – often a parent. "We are looking at ways of making sure parents face up to their responsibilities. It is one of a number of ideas knocking around," the spokeswoman said.