Pressure growing to scrap two-child benefit limit

by Pelican Press
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Pressure growing to scrap two-child benefit limit

12 minutes ago

By Michael Buchanan, Social affairs correspondent, BBC News • Joe Pike, Political correspondent, BBC News

Getty Images A man with three childrenGetty Images

The government is facing growing calls to scrap the two-child benefit limit, in next week’s King’s Speech – including from its own MPs.

Many Labour MPs oppose the limit as they say it increases child poverty.

Prime Minister Keir Starmer has said he is “not immune” to those arguments but scrapping it is currently unaffordable.

Some Labour MPs are hoping for a change of heart next Wednesday, when the new government formally sets out the laws it wants to bring in over the next year.

One new Labour MP told BBC News: “We just need to be patient and wait for the King’s Speech,” adding, with a grin: “I’m very optimistic.”

The number of children affected by the two-child benefits cap increased to 1.6 million in the year to April, Department for Work and Pensions data shows, while 440,000 households had their benefits cut, an increase of almost 8%.

The policy – introduced by the previous, Conservative government – prevents households on universal or child tax credit from receiving payments for a third or subsequent child born after April 2017 .

Scrapping the policy this year would cost the current, Labour government £2.5bn, according to the Resolution Foundation think tank.

The size of Labour’s Commons majority means it could easily see off even a significant rebellion of its own MPs, as well as opposition party votes.

But Mr Starmer may be anxious to avoid an early showdown over an issue about which many of his MPs feel strongly.

‘Cruel policy’

In a social-media post, City of Durham Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy said: “Too many families in the North East are affected by the two-child limit. We need to scrap the cap.”

The Liberal Democrats have not ruled out tabling an amendment in Parliament next week to increase pressure on the Labour leader.

“Let’s see what’s in the King’s Speech,” leader Sir Ed Davey said when asked if his party would take such a step.

“We believe that the strength of the arguments are so good that the government will be forced to listen.”

Green Party MP Sian Berry said: “Greens would scrap the cap immediately and we are making plans to work through every means we can and with anyone we can cross party to push ministers to scrap this cruel policy.”

The Scottish National Party has long called for the two-child cap to be abolished but the party’s heavily reduced group of MPs has yet to decide on a strategy in Parliament for pressuring Labour to scrap it.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has also spoken out against the two-child cap.


Olympia says a little help would make a huge difference to her family

Olympia, a performing-arts teacher, lives with her husband, who works in retail distribution, and has a daughter, seven, and two sons, six and two.

And the family, from Redcar, Teesside, have had their benefits capped due to the two-child limit.

“My son has never had a new school jumper because I know he will fit into my daughter’s,” Olympia, who asked for her surname to be withheld, told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme.

“There have been instances, especially when it comes to the end of the month, where we’ve had to improvise and be like, ‘There’s no cereal, there’s a tin of beans to go between three children.’

“What makes my first two children more important than my third?

“As a mum, I feel like I’ve failed.”

Olympia said she was “very aware” she and her husband had chosen to have the children but added a little bit of help would make a huge difference.

‘Financial losses’

Capped households, 59% of whom are in work, lose up to about £3,500 a year in benefits for their third and each subsequent child, Resolution Foundation analysis shows.

And while 41% of children in large families were living in relative poverty in 2016-17, when the policy was introduced, that proportion is set to rise to 51% by the end of this Parliament.

“There isn’t much evidence to show that the policy has achieved its stated aims of boosting employment and reducing the number of children families have,” Lalitha Try, from the Resolution Foundation, said.

“But there is clear evidence of the financial losses that affected families are facing, and rising rates of poverty.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall said: “We will work to give every child the best start in life by delivering our manifesto commitment to implement an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty,”

“I will hold critical meetings with charities and experts next week to get this urgent work under way.”

‘Labour values’

Sasha Das Gupta, who co-chairs left-wing Labour campaign group Momentum, said: “Labour cannot simply promise a ‘strategy’ on this – we need to scrap the cap and promote bold policies for all.

“That’s what real Labour values look like.”

Momentum is preparing to launch an online tool to put pressure on MPs to scrap the two-child benefit cap.

It will be the first time Labour’s new intake of MPs will be subject to lobbying on a major policy issue.

The tool will help constituents lobby their Labour MPs via email.

Those without a Labour MP will be encouraged to email Mr Starmer.

Additional reporting: Helen Catt

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