Social Justice

Even Suella Braverman wants to end the two-child benefit cap. Why is Labour refusing to budge?

If right-wing Conservative MP Suella Braverman can recognise that the two-child limit is aggravating child poverty, why is Labour refusing to scrap it? Charities weigh in on the impact the 'cruel' welfare policy is having on kids living in deprivation across the UK

suella braverman

Suella Braverman, the Conservative MP for Fareham and former Home Secretary. Image: National Conservatism/ Flickr

Even Suella Braverman wants an end to the two-child benefit cap, an “inhumane” welfare policy which is trapping thousands of children in poverty.

“Let’s abolish the two-child limit, eradicate child poverty for good and make Frank Field proud,” the former home secretary and Tory MP for Fareham, usually known for her right-wing views, wrote in The Telegraph.

Charities and experts have long called for an end to the two-child benefit cap, which means families claiming benefits who have a third or subsequent child after April 2017 are denied more than £3,000 compared with families whose kids were born sooner.

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

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

Perhaps unsurprisingly with Braverman’s plans, there’s a catch. She also wants to increase conditionality and sanctions in the benefits regime and create means-testing for pensioners, all of which are likely to lead to increased poverty.

But it’s still significant that Braverman has recognised that the two-child limit is “aggravating child poverty”. Labour on the other hand is set to keep the policy, despite pressure from its own MPs.

Responding to Braverman in an interview with The Independent, shadow health minister Wes Streeting said: “The answer to child poverty, ultimately, is not simply about handouts, it is about a social security safety net, that also acts as a springboard that helps people into work and with good work that makes the cost of living affordable for everyone.”

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.

An estimated 300,000 children could be lifted out of poverty if the government scrapped the policy, according to charity Turn2us. It could also significantly lessen the depth of poverty for a further 800,000 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.”

Guinness said that the long-term costs to society of entrenched child poverty are “staggering”, around £39bn annually. Scrapping this policy 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.

“We cannot continue punishing children for the circumstances of their birth,” Guinness added. “The two child limit undermines British values of compassion and justice for all. If Labour is serious about change then they must make the moral and economic choice to lift so many children out of poverty to provide long-term benefits to the economy.

“Labour must scrap the two-child limit as soon as they are in government. It is the most effective way to provide immediate financial relief to struggling families and give vulnerable children a chance at escaping the poverty trap.”

Ayla Ozmen, director of policy and campaigns at Z2K, said: “The two-child limit is one of the most pernicious parts of the social security system, driving children into poverty for having too many brothers or sisters and forcing their parents to make impossible choices, like deciding whether to feed themselves or their children.

“No government that’s serious about reducing child poverty can ignore the impact of this policy. Politicians across the spectrum are increasingly recognising this, yet neither Labour nor the Conservatives will commit to scrapping it. They urgently need to, for the sake of the nearly two million children hit by this arbitrary cap.”

More than 265,000 children needed food banks to survive between April and September last year, according to the Trussell Trust.

The charity distributed 1.5 million emergency food parcels during this six-month period, more than ever before over the summer months. One in three of these parcels were provided to children.

Sabine Goodwin, director of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), said: “Maintaining the two-child limit alongside the benefit cap and a punitive sanctions regime flies in the face of logic.

“The evidence is clear and overwhelming. These policies are key drivers of severe food insecurity and food bank use and the sooner they’re abandoned the better.”



Michael Clarke, head of information programmes at Turn2us, added: “The unfair two-child limit has a devastating impact on families. It denies children essential resources and hampers their ability to escape the cycle of poverty and reach their full potential. 

“We call on policymakers to scrap the two-child limit immediately and reverse the growing tide of child poverty.”

While Suella Braverman’s plans to fund the end of the two-child limit with tougher sanctions have been criticised as counterintuitive, it will still need to be funded.

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”.

Plus, it would be making savings in public services – such as within the NHS and social care – as well as helping kids to thrive in their education, meaning they are more likely to contribute to the economy in a substantial way in the future.

Meghan Meek-O’Connor, UK child poverty policy lead at Save the Children, said: “It is an outrage 46% of children with two or more siblings live in poverty and, with growing consensus across the political spectrum, the unfair two-child limit must be scrapped. 

“Children are going without essentials – not to mention the joys that make childhood fulfilling – simply because they have siblings. The UK government must abolish this tax on siblings so all children receive the support they deserve.”

Joseph Howes, chief executive of Buttle UK and chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition, added: “The two-child limit to benefit payments is a cruel policy which forces families to live in poverty. 

“The majority of households hit by this policy have working parents. We also know that families with disabled children and single parents with young children are unfairly targeted. Any political party serious about tacking child poverty should pledge to scrap this policy.”

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