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Gordon and Suella united on child poverty? Something’s shifting

3 min read

Gordon Brown is right to point out every child misses out when they are cruelly hit by the two-child limit to benefits.

It means less food, less days out, fewer toys, books and experiences and a smaller childhood. It’s a shameful rule children’s charities have been campaigning against for seven years, but it feels as though across the political class, people have had enough and sands are shifting. Just days ago Suella Braverman became a surprise sceptic of the policy introduced by her party. She warned fellow Conservatives to do more to protect families on lower incomes, and you’ll find many elected politicians from Stormont to Holyrood calling for the same.  

At Westminster they include the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru who all want this cruel policy scrapped. The Scottish Government has consistently called on the UK Government to ditch it, and notably a letter from new First Minister John Swinney to Labour leader Keir Starmer outlined how abandoning the two-child limit and reintroducing the Family Element in Universal Credit would lift 10,000 children out of poverty in Scotland.  Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar wants it gone. At Stormont last month, Communities Minister Gordon Lyons (DUP) said he did not support it, though feared the costs involved of removing it. Almost all of the other Northern Irish parties are against it too.  The Labour-led Welsh Government has opposed it. Three-times mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham opposes it. 

And yet sadly, the key players stand firm. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak politically re-litigated the issue by saying the rule would be in his general election manifesto and Labour leader Keir Starmer has worryingly said he would not overturn it.  

This austerity-era policy affects one in 10 UK families, the majority of whom are in work, with estimates younger siblings miss out on £62 a week – over £3200 a year according to research body Nesta. The Work and Pensions Committee, led by the late Frank Field, declared it ineffective in 2019, stating “no Government” should accept its consequences. Women still suffer the indignity of having to disclose to officials if their third or subsequent child was the product of rape, which exempts them from having the benefit restricted to two-children.

When a policy is clearly damaging the lives of so many and fails to reach its aims – it is neither reducing family size, nor enhancing employment -  it is time for a rethink. We expect a child born third or fourth, or children growing up in a blended family, to pay tax and national insurance when they are older, to “pay into the system”, so why when they are little themselves, do they not get that helping hand?  And how can every main political leader in the UK, including then Conservative leader David Cameron, have supported the goal of ending child poverty in 2010 by the next decade, only for child poverty to now be higher than ever?

At Save the Children UK we think the truest indication of how political parties want to treat the most vulnerable children in society, is where they fall on the two-child limit to benefits. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and voices within the Tory party and Labour grandees are lightyears ahead of this odd Starmer-Rishi consensus. Labour and the Tories must now decide this upcoming General Election how they want to be remembered when it comes to children. If they stick with this dystopian, vicious and heinous rule, they will leave no legacy for the young at all.   

Becca Lyon is Head of Child Poverty for Save The Children

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