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Archbishop of Canterbury joins growing calls for end to 'cruel' and 'immoral' two-child benefit cap

Labour's Wes Streeting welcomed the calls from the Archbishop of Canterbury but said he could not commit to scrapping the policy

archbishop of canterbury

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, meeting with the prime minister last year. Image: Simon Walker/ No 10 Downing Street

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has joined calls to scrap the two-child limit on benefits – a “cruel” policy which he claims is “neither moral nor necessary”.

Charities have long called for an end to to the two-child benefit cap, which sees families with a third or subsequent child born after April 2017 miss out on more than £3,000 in benefits.

An estimated 300,000 children could be lifted out of poverty if the government scrapped the policy. It could also significantly lessen the depth of poverty for a further 800,000 children.

Archbishop Welby told the Observer: “The two-child limit falls short of our values as a society. It denies the truth that all children are of equal and immeasurable worth, and will have an impact on their long-term health, wellbeing and educational outcomes.”

Welby added: “This cruel policy is neither moral nor necessary. We are a country that can and should provide for those most in need, following the example of Jesus Christ, who served the poorest in society.

“As a meaningful step towards ending poverty, and recognising the growing concern across the political spectrum, I urge all parties to commit to abolishing the two-child limit.”

The archbishop has been vocal in his calls for the government to do more to support vulnerable people. He recently revealed the Church of England’s long-term vision to fix the housing system in England, calling on policymakers to end the “corrosive” crisis by 2050.



Labour is currently set to keep the two-child limit on benefits. Speaking to Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he could not commit to scrapping the policy.

“There are hard choices to make,” he said. “Unless and until I can sit on your programme and say, we will do x by funding it through y, that’s not a commitment I’m able to make today.”

But he welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments, saying: “I take him really seriously, and if we are fortunate enough to be in government after the next general election, we will have a serious cross-government strategy for not just reducing child poverty but ending child poverty.”

Asked whether he would like to get rid of the cap, Streeting said: “I voted against the two-child limit. So by definition, I wish it wasn’t there.”

Around 1.5 million children live in families whose benefits are reduced by the two-child limit. That is one in every 10 children.

It was previously estimated that these families miss out on up to £3,235 per year per child, although it is likely to be higher now following the April increase in benefits.

Shockingly, 2,590 women had to disclose that they were raped to get an exemption last year.

Meghan Meek-O’Connor, child poverty policy lead at Save the Children UK, said:  “The Archbishop of Canterbury joins the growing consensus that the two-child limit is cruel and has no place in our society. Abolishing the unfair policy would lift 300,000 children out of poverty, giving them the chance to thrive and reach their full potential. The current, or any future UK government, must scrap this ‘sibling tax.'”

Scrapping the two-child limit would come at a cost of £1.3bn, but that’s only 1% of the welfare bill and would mean savings for public services and a boost for the economy in the long term.

The long-term costs to society of entrenched child poverty are “staggering” at around £39bn annually.

Labour has already pledged to raise at least £2.5bn in taxes on private schools and non-doms. Save the Children has suggested “they could make the choice to prioritise using this money to scrap the two-child limit and stick within their fiscal rules”.

Polling commissioned by Save the Children, and reported by the i, found that 39% of people would be more likely to vote for a party if it committed to scrapping the two-child limit.

Helen Barnard, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “The removal of two-child limit is in important step towards a social security system which protects all members of the family from going without essentials like food, heating, and clothing.  

“Alarmingly, a third (30%) of all support provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust network last year was for families with three or more children. This demonstrates just how many children are being let down by the government and the urgent need for all political leaders to commit to taking action so that everyone is able to afford the essentials and all children have a decent start in life. 

“Policies which drag so many families into dire hardship are not only immoral, they also store up problems for the future, as children’s prospects are damaged – holding back future economic growth and increasing pressure on public services.”

The Trussell Trust distributed 3.1 million emergency food parcels in the year up to March 2024. More than 1.1 million of these food parcels went to children.

Laurence Guinness, the chief executive of London’s child poverty charity the Childhood Trust, said: “The two-child benefit limit is an inhumane and ineffective policy that is pushing thousands of children across the UK deeper into poverty. It is a morally indefensible measure that disproportionately impacts larger families, ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities or health issues.

“It is discriminatory at its core and fails to achieve its stated aims of reducing birth rates or encouraging parents to work more. This conservative policy has become a brutal poverty trap.”

He added: “This cruel policy is indefensible and is now being attacked from those within the party that launched it. It’s time for the prime minister to show his moral leadership credentials and do the right thing by scrapping the two-child benefit cap as soon as possible.”

Gareth McNab, director of external affairs at Christians Against Poverty, of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is a patron, said: “When government’s own figures show more than 14 million people experiencing poverty – and more than four million of those being children – it is an absolute outrage that government policy is itself driving so much of that poverty. 

“And it is even more concerning that so few other parties that would seek to form a government are prepared to commit to removing this unjust, ineffective and counterproductive policy. 

“Our patron, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is absolutely right to be calling this a moral issue that transcends the political divides, and we absolutely agree – it is time for all politicians who seek power and who claim to be concerned about poverty to nail their colours to the mast and make the commitment to abolish the two child limit. 

“In the coming general election, there will be many words spoken – but when it comes to it, what people experiencing poverty today need is bold, urgent action.”

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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