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Labour Hints that Starmer DOES Want to Scrap Two Child Benefit Cap Amid Mounting Rebellion

Keir Starmer’s spokesman opened the door to a potential U-turn on his plans to keep the controversial cap, following growing criticism from Labour MPs

Labour leader Keir Starmer. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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Labour has hinted that Keir Starmer could still repeal the controversial two child benefit cap if elected Prime Minister next year – despite insisting at the weekend that he would not scrap it.

Asked by the BBC on Sunday whether he would scrap the cap, Starmer told Laura Kuenssberg that his party was “not changing that policy”.

However, following a wave of criticism from Labour MPs, his spokesman signalled on Wednesday that it was still possible that a Starmer Government could at some point pledge to remove the cap.

The spokesman told journalists that while the party had to make “difficult choices” on spending, the Labour leader’s previous opposition to the cap “hasn’t changed throughout the period”.

And the party official said that while Starmer would not make “unfunded spending commitments on welfare or anything else” he would “set out fully-costed plans closer to the election”.

Pressed on whether Labour could still repeal the legislation, despite Sir Keir’s apparent vow not to on Sunday, he added that: “We’re not going to speculate on hypotheticals. The fact of the matter is we have set out precisely the measures that we are going to change when it comes to tax and public spending already… I’m not going to engage in sort of hypothetical conversations or what else might or might not happen”.

Members of Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet have previously described the benefit limit as “heinous”, and one which “keeps children in poverty”.

Starmer himself has also previously called for the “inhumane” cap to be scrapped.

And on Tuesday, the Scottish National Party was among opposition parties to slam Labour for their “u-turn” on abolishing the two-child benefit cap – pointing to numerous senior Labour figures condemning the policy in recent years.

The two child benefit limit prevents parents from claiming child tax credit or universal credit for child beyond their second if they were born after April 2017. The policy was introduced by former chancellor George Osborne under his austerity push – and has been condemned by charities for pushing parents further into poverty. 

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It was branded by some as a “rape clause” as it provides no exceptions, e.g. providing child benefit for children born of sexual assault. 

Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting has previously cited the need to “restore a social security system worthy of the name” including by “ending the two-child limit in universal credit to restore support to 250,000 children”. 

Another frontbencher, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth, has previously said: “We are very, very aware that this [two-child benefit cap] is one of the single most heinous elements of the system which is pushing children and families into poverty today”.

Scrapping the two child benefit limit could cost around £1.3bn a year according to some estimates, though others put it closer to £3bn. 

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Sir Keir was lambasted over his refusal to commit to scrapping the cap during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. The SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn asked the PM: “Does he take comfort in knowing that the heinous legacy of that policy will no longer just be protected by Conservative members, but by Labour members too?’”

However, Sir Keir’s spokesman insisted that the party needed to make “difficult choices” on spending, due to the damage the Conservatives have “incurred to public finances”. 

“We know we’re going to have an incredibly tight financial situation. Which means that you know, we have to be absolutely laser like focused on the need to be responsible with the public finances”, he said. 

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Sunak also welcomed Keir’s apparent “support” for keeping the cap – in a move that is likely to rile Labour members.

Who is Making Policy?

The chair of the soft-left group Open Labour, Tessa Milligan, told a meeting of nearly 200 Compass supporters on Tuesday that it was deeply unclear who is making policy in the party at present. Compass recently saw its director Neal Lawson threatened with expulsion over backing cross-party cooperation in 2021.

“There are key elements of policy-making in the party at the moment that are very opaque, making it difficult to engage with them. There are factions in the Labour Party who are very unclear about their own policies….

“There may be groups within the Labour Party who want to stop the two-child benefit limit. I would encourage them to come out of the shadows and argue for it publicly. I think they will not find a majority of support for that position if indeed there are groups within the party that hold that position.

“What you’ve seen with the two-child benefits cap is what seems to be a manifesto by ambush,” Milligan said.

Milligan said policy seems to be being “decided somewhere and I don’t know who decides it.”

On the two-child limit policy, she added: “I don’t know what the evidence base for it is, and it’s suddenly announced at nine o’clock on national television. Whether you agree with the policy is irrelevant when it comes to effective governance. 

“When you strip it down to that, you end up with a Shadow Cabinet, parliamentary Labour Party, and a series of activists who have no idea why this is our policy. What the evidence base for it is or even what the messaging is for it, if they do want to try and persuade the public that it’s a good idea.”

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