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Labour backlash over Starmer’s commitment to two-child benefit cap

Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday  (PA Media)
Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday (PA Media)

Yvette Cooper has defended Labour’s plan to keep the Conservatives’ two-child benefit cap amid a backlash from within the party.

The shadow home secretary insisted Labour must be “clear about what we can fund”.

It comes after Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday confirmed he would retain the two-child limit, despite growing calls from poverty campaigners for the cap to be abandoned a decade after it was introduced.

The cap was introduced in April 2013, under the then-Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government which hailed it as a way of “restoring fairness to the welfare state”.

It sees the amount of benefits a household receives reduced to ensure claimants do not receive more than the cap limit.

In February 2020 Mr Starmer tweeted that two-child limited should be scrapped.

He wrote: “It’s time to scrap Universal Credit and create a social security system fit for the 21st century with compassion and justice as its founding principles.”

But when asked by BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on her Sunday show, Mr Starmer said: “We’re not changing that policy.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth recently described the two-child benefit cap as “heinous” and “absolutely keeping children in poverty”.

A unnamed shadow minister reportedly told The Independent there was “a lot of unhappiness” among MPs in the party and “a lot of lobbying” to force a change.

Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, responded to Mr Starmer’s comments by describing the two-child policy as “one of the most unpleasant pieces of legislation ever to have been passed in the UK”.

She tweeted: “It’s very rare for someone to enter the House of Commons having been on tax credits, but myself and a few others did in 2017; scrapping this cruel policy was one of our shared political motives.”

Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley called it a “despicable policy”, writing on Twitter: “ The two-child cap is causing misery for thousands of young people in Birkenhead. This is the wrong call.”

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell wrote: “It’s pretty clear that we now need an honest and fundamental discussion in the Labour Party about child poverty, it’s causes and the impact of the policies introduced by the Tories, including the two-child limit, because it’s obvious some in the party don’t fully appreciate its impact.”

Asked about this on Monday, Ms Cooper told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “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 pointed to measures Labour will fund to help tackle child poverty, including free breakfast clubs, helping people with their mortgages and reforming Universal Credit.

Sticking to the message that financial prudence is paramount risks angering the Labour left, and even some among the Labour leader’s top team have previously expressed views that appear to diverge from the current party line.

Ms Cooper told Sky News: “We opposed it when it first came in. And we have pointed out a whole series of different things that the Conservatives have done that are damaging, but we’ve also been really clear that anything that we say has got to be funded.”

The last Labour government went into the 1997 election “being really clear about only saying the things that we could fund, but we got the economy growing, we built our public services and we did a whole series of things that lifted families out of poverty,” she said.

The long-serving Labour MP said there had been a 40 per cent increase in child poverty under the Tories and insisted a Labour government would address this.

The two-child cap prevents parents from claiming universal credit or child tax credit for a third or additional child born after April 2017.