The two child benefit limit has caused unimaginable hardship. It must be scrapped – Beth Winter MP


“The policy has caused unimaginable hardship, poverty and misery for hundreds of thousands of families, most of whom are those in the greatest need of support.”

By Beth Winter MP

During the summer recess I have travelled up and down my valley constituency of Cynon Valley on my annual summer roadshow, meeting people, talking to them about what matters to them.

The cost-of-living crisis is hitting hard and is hitting families with children particularly hard. I never cease to be amazed by their resilience, their sense of community, their care for others. It matters not a jot how many children they have – they have a humanity that many in power would do well to emulate.

These are the people that inspire me, as a Labour politician, a socialist and a mother of three children myself.

Fighting child poverty must be a defining mission. Whilst there are policies at Welsh and UK Government level that would make a difference, the single best way to fight child policy in the UK would be to abolish the two-child limit.

Introduced in 2017 by the then Chancellor George Osborne, the two-child limit restricts the support provided through Tax Credits and Universal Credit to two children per household.

The policy has caused unimaginable hardship, poverty and misery for hundreds of thousands of families, most of whom are those in the greatest need of support. The policy is estimated to affect 1.5 million children – one in every ten children in the UK – and disproportionately affects minority-ethnic families and single parent families. It is a key contributory factor to the inexorable levels of child poverty in the UK which currently stands at over 4 million children.

This policy epitomises this UK Tory government – it is cruel, inhumane, morally repugnant and discriminatory.

The government’s rationale for the policy was to ‘incentivise’ parents of larger families to move into work or increase their hours of work.

This has not happened.

A recent study revealed that the policy hasn’t resulted in increasing levels of employment and has failed to address the barriers to employment, such as accessible and affordable childcare. And it ignores the fact that many people wish to choose to remain at home when their children are young. This final factor exposes the discriminatory nature of the policy – where the privileged and the wealthy can choose to stay home and spend more time with their children unchallenged the same opportunity is not afforded to poorer families.

The policy has been rightly savaged by an array of agencies and politicians. Over 50 organisations have called for it to be abolished, including the Children’s Society, the TUC and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Scrapping the two-child limit is the top priority of the Child Poverty Action Group and Emeritus professor of social policy and board member of CPAG, Jonathan Bradshaw, has described it as ‘morally odious, vindictively conceived’ and ‘the worst policy ever’.

Scrapping the two-child benefit cap is not only the moral thing to do, it is also affordable and cost effective. Child poverty costs £39 billion a year. It damages lives, children’s health and well-being, causes stress and anxiety to families, adds to pressure on already pressurised public services. The End Child Poverty coalition says removing the cap would cost around £1.3 billion – less than 1% of the welfare bill – and would be the most cost-effective way of reducing the number of children living in poverty lifting 250,000 children out of poverty.

I’ve always been proud that tackling child poverty, including the abolition of the two-child benefit cap, has been a flagship policy of the Labour Party. In 2020, the UK Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, talked about the need to “scrap punitive sanctions” including the “two child limit and benefits caps”. His deputy Angela Rayner and the then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions also spoke against the cap, using words such as “heinous”, “inhumane” and “obscene” to describe the policy.

That is why I was genuinely shocked and perplexed by Keir Starmer’s announcement that the Labour Party would keep the policy.

This is clearly a political choice. There is an alternative. I was elected on a radical manifesto that committed to address inequality and poverty, redistribute wealth, tackle the climate crisis, and protect our public services. If we are going to convince people that the Labour party is going to build a better Britain, we need to build support for bold policies that offer hope.

Yes, there are difficult decisions to be made by Labour in Government, but the burden of paying for those difficult decisions should fall on the shoulders of those who can most afford to pay, not those least able to do so.

The Labour Campaign to End Child Poverty has drafted a vital model motion calling for the scrapping of the limit. I urge all who profess to share the values on which our party was built, to submit this motion to party conference.

If Labour is the party of social justice, equality and fairness there is one thing we can do now – we can pledge to put our children first in the order of our priorities, and scrap the “heinous” and “inhumane” two-child limit on our first day in Government.

Featured image: Official portrait of Beth Winter MP. Photo credit:

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