Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

‘Keir Starmer’s Defence of the Two Child Benefit Cap is Indefensible’

The Labour leader’s refusal to commit to scrapping George Osborne’s austerity-era policy risks committing hundreds of thousands more children into poverty

Keir Starmer visits a school in Middlesbrough. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

Two things now look obvious. The first is that Keir Starmer is likely to be ultimately forced into scrapping the two child benefit cap.

The moral argument for doing so is overwhelming. A new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week found that close to half of all large families are now in relative child poverty, with hundreds of thousands more families set to be dragged into destitution over the coming years. Scrapping the cap would do more to lift children out of poverty than any other welfare policy currently on the table.

The political argument is equally strong. Support for scrapping the cap now spreads right across the political spectrum, with everyone from Gordon Brown to Suella Braverman and Nigel Farage now calling for George Osborne’s austerity-era policy to be axed. By continuing to refuse to scrap the cap, Starmer is placing his party to the right of some of the most regressive voices in UK politics.

Scrapping the policy would come at an estimated cost of around £3 billion a year. 

However, previous research has found strong evidence that investing in children at a young age can partly or entirely pay for itself in the long term, by reducing more costly negative social outcomes later in life.

For all these reasons, and more, Starmer is likely to eventually be forced into scrapping the cap. A sign of this came on Monday when he said that he was “not immune” to doing so.

“I’m not going to put a date on these things, but I’m not immune from just how powerful an argument this is,” Starmer said.

‘Diane Abbott’s Treatment Raises Big Concerns About Racism and Factionalism in the Labour Party’

Labour figures from across Keir Starmer’s party are furious about her treatment by the leadership

So why not just commit to it now? The obvious answer appears to be political expediency. 

After many years of being painted as “soft on welfare”, Labour is reluctant to do anything that allows their opponents to repeat the charge.

This can be seen in the defence of their position. Asked last month why they were now opposing scrapping the cap, given the party’s previous support for a change, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said that tacking child poverty was “not simply about handouts” it was about getting “people into work”.

Yet stopping children from growing up without enough food to eat, or clothes to wear, is not about stopping “handouts”. It is about basic human decency. 

No child should be punished for the situation their parents find themselves in and no society should accept hundreds of thousands more children being dragged into poverty simply to help a political party avoid a few negative headlines in the Daily Mail.

Asked about the cap on LBC today, Keir Starmer insisted that a Labour government would ultimately have a “strategy” for “eliminating” child poverty.

Yet all the evidence suggests that the simplest and most cost-effective strategy for lifting children out of poverty is to scrap this deeply damaging and regressive policy – something that Starmer himself has previously acknowledged.


Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Labour’s current argument against it – that all policies must be fully funded – is simply one of priorities. Asked about the policy today on LBC, Starmer insisted that “we don’t have a magic wand” and that “there isn’t any money available”.

But with Starmer managing to find tens of billions of pounds to freeze rates of corporation tax, income tax, national insurance and VAT, the relatively low cost of scrapping the two child cap could also be easily met, should the Labour leader choose to do so.

All the signs suggest that this is a decision the party is likely to ultimately take. As Streeting admitted this week, Labour’s manifesto is not the “sum total” of everything Labour will do in Government. Do not be surprised if scrapping the cap is added to that sum in any post-election spending review.

Yet by refusing to do so now, the Labour Party is going into the election with an indefensible commitment to condemn hundreds of thousands more children into poverty, with no clear date as to when this abomination will ultimately be brought to an end.

For all the party’s talk of “difficult choices”, this is one decision that no decent Government should ever be willing to defend.

Written by

This article was filed under
, , , , , ,