Politics

Even Nigel Farage wants to scrap the two-child benefit cap. When will Labour see sense?

Far-right populist Nigel Farage is the latest public figure to urge the abolition of the two child benefit limit

Labour leader Keir Starmer waits to be introduced on stage before giving a speech to unveil the party's fifth and final mission for government, at Mid Kent College on July 6, 2023 in Gillingham, England. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Nigel Farage, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Suella Braverman and former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown make for unlikely allies.

But despite their wildly divergent political views, all have come out in favour of scrapping the two-child benefit cap.

Far-right populist Farage is the latest public figure to urge the abolition of the benefit limit.

Questioned on the cap in Thursday’s (13 June) general election debate, Farage said: ”I think we should encourage people to have families.

”I think we should encourage people to have children. I think we should also encourage people in marriage to have some tax benefits as well. We’ve got to help people.”

The cap – introduced by the Conservatives in 2017 – has led to soaring rates of child poverty in families with more than two children, the Resolution Foundation think tank has claimed, impacting around 420,000 families last year.

Labour have said it will keep the two-child benefit cap if it enters power, a policy position Sir Keir Starmer labelled a “really difficult decision”.

But as opposition to the limit mounts, will that change?

Starmer is focused on limiting spending, explained Patrick Diamond, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London and a former Labour policy advisor.

“Labour has decided to make fiscal discipline the cornerstone of their manifesto which means very limited commitments to new spending,” he said.

“Where there is new spending, the focus is on improving public services, especially health and education. This is understandably frustrating for anti-poverty campaigners given the shocking levels of poverty we can observe in today’s Britain, but it reflects prevailing public views about where UK government needs to deliver extra resources most urgently.”

But professor Karl Pike said that scrapping the limit ought to be a “no-brainer” for the party – and predicts that the rules won’t last long after the election

“I think the really important thing is that in the manifesto, Labour commits to, and I’m quoting them here, an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty, and you can’t have a serious strategy to reduce child poverty unless you change these limits,” he said.

“I would be very surprised if this doesn’t change very early on in a Labour government.”

It won’t happen during the election campaign, he added, but soon after.

“That might be partly because they would have to find the money to pay for it. That’s another exercise they would have to do before general election,” he said.

“But look, in government, there’s really no reason why this couldn’t happen. Relative to government spending, this is not a huge amount of money.”

Ditching the policy completely would cost £3.6bn in today’s prices and take 490,000 children out of poverty, the Resolution Foundation report found.

Professor Diamond agreed that a Labour U-turn before the election is unlikely. What happens afterwards, however, remains to be seen.

“A U-turn now is unlikely. If Labour do win the election on 4 July, campaigners should focus on building a coalition for change that pushes a new government in the right direction, not just on removing the two-child benefit cap but on devising a serious cross-government strategy to reduce child poverty.”

There are 4.3 million children across the UK living in poverty. That’s roughly one in three.

Local child poverty rates across the UK correlate very strongly with the percentage of families affected by the two-child benefit cap, research by the Child Poverty Action group has found, indicating that the contentious policy is a key factor behind children growing up in deprivation.

“The two-child limit, more than any other policy, has driven child poverty to record levels,” said Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.

“There needs to be some real ambition on family incomes and real change won’t come for the four million children in poverty until the two-child limit and benefit cap are scrapped and the rate of child benefit is increased. Our responsibility to the future starts with ensuring all children can have a good start in life.”

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