Mon, 11 December 2023

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Labour Rebels Pledge To "Push Back" On Keir Starmer's Two Child Benefit Cap U-Turn


4 min read

Frustrated Labour MPs have continued to "push back" on Keir Starmer's controversial commitment to maintain the Tories’ two-child benefit cap limit if the party were to be elected into government after a fraught Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Tuesday night.

A Labour backbencher expressed appetite within the parliamentary party to put pressure on the leadership to rethink the position, arguing the consequences could be “catastrophic” if they did not. 

“Hopefully it is something we can push back on and win the day on. Fighting child poverty should be at the heart of everything we do,” they told PoliticsHome

On Sunday, Starmer set off unrest within the Labour party when he told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg he was “not changing" a policy introduced by former chancellor George Osborne that stops parents from claiming child tax credit or universal credit for any third or second child born after April 2017. While the "two child benefit limit" exempts childred born as a result of rape, victims have to prove and record with the state that they were sexually abused.

One shadow minister believed that party members are likely to challenge Starmer’s decision and expressed concerned that if the party continued to backtrack on prior commitments to roll back the policy, the leadership may be forced into conceding on other policy areas. They added that the Labour Party could not be seen as committing to policies “on a hoof”.

But another shadow minister told PoliticsHome while a number of colleagues were “very unhappy” with the move, they believed nobody wants to raise “their head above the parapet” to openly challenge the leadership on the matter with rumours of a “reshuffle looming”.

At a regular meeting of the Labour Parliamentary Party in Westminster on Tuesday night, chaired by deputy leader Angela Rayner, half a dozen Labour Party MPs debated the issue including Rosie Duffield, Richard Burgeon and Lloyd Russell Moyle.

Duffield said she was “sick to death of it,” according to Politico. She added the party should commit to abolishing the rape clause.

After the event, Russell Moyle told political reporters “no assurances” were given by the leadership, but he was confident the proposals to reverse the policy would go back to Starmer.

Prior to Starmer's intervention on Sunday, Labour had been steadfast in its opposition to the policy. Last month Shadow Work and Pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth signalled to the Mirror that an incoming Labour government would scrap the “heinous” two-child benefit policy.

“The former Conservative welfare minister David Freud described this as a vicious policy. He was absolutely correct to describe it as a vicious policy,” he told the paper.

His predecessor Jonathan Reynolds, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, who is now Shadow Business Secretary, promised a future Labour government would scrap the two-child benefit rule at the party's conference in 2021. 

"Under Labour’s plans – scrapping the five-week wait, ending the benefit cap and binning the two-child limit – 500,000, yes half a million, fewer people would be in poverty right now. That’s the difference Labour can make: safety and security for you and your family," he said. 

Rayner also tweeted in December 2020 that “the obscene and inhumane two child cap must go, as must the five week wait".

On Monday Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, defended the Labour leadership's position. “What Labour’s been clear about is we have to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and we also will always make sure that the proposals we put forward are fully costed and funded so that we can actually deliver them, and I think that’s what people want to see,” she told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

This morning Lucy Powell, the Shadow Culture Secretary, also supported Starmer's position. She told TalkTv that the Labour Party has "got to show where the money is coming from for each and every policy".

The Child Poverty Action Group charity claimed the two-child benefit cap risked creating incentives “for larger families to separate and could discourage single parents from forming new ‘blended’ families”.

Kim Johnson, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, told the House of Commons last week the policy would only cost the Government £1.3billion and as a result “immediately raise 250,000 children out of poverty, and a further 850,000 out of deep poverty".

She added: “We know that the money is there to help struggling families, if we can only find the will. Poverty is a political choice, and time and time again this Government have chosen giveaways for the rich and scraps for the rest of us.” 

Research from Benefit Changes & Larger Familes found the two-child benefit cap implemented by the Conservatives withdrew “significant economic resources” from poorer families. The report, co-authored by economist Jonathan Portes, stated there was significant evidence “on the wellbeing of families, including their mental health.”

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