Bishop of Leicester adds to pressure on Labour to scrap two-child benefit cap

A silhouette of a child on a swing
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)


The Bishop of Leicester has added his weight to pressure building on Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer to scrap the two-child benefit cap. The calls have been made as new figures showed more than one and a half million children across the UK are affected. In Leicester, more than one in three children are living in poverty.

An independent think tank has said that the majority of children in large families will fall below the poverty line by the end of this Parliament, five years from now, unless the policy is abolished. The latest statistics, which are a rise of 100,000 in a year, have prompted renewed calls from charities and campaigners for the cap to be ditched, something Labour has not committed to.

Figures published today by the Department for Work and Pensions showed there were 1.6 million children living in households affected by the policy as of April this year, up from 1.5 million to April 2023. Of these, 52% of children were in households with three children, 29% in households with four children, and 19% in households with five or more children.

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Last month, before becoming Prime Minister, Sir Keir said he would scrap the two-child limit "in an ideal world" but added that "we haven't got the resources to do it at the moment". Children's charities have now made fresh pleas to end the policy, which was introduced in 2017 and restricts child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in most households.

The Church of England has backed the call. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, previously described the policy as "cruel" and one which is "neither moral nor necessary".

The Rt Rev. the Lord Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, said: "Abolishing this unfair policy is essential if we are to turn the tide on poverty and ensure that every child is supported to flourish in all areas of life."

New Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall, who is the MP for Leicester West, called the child poverty situation "a stain on our society" and pledged to hold "critical meetings" with charities and experts about its strategy to tackle it.

Sir Keir, speaking at the party's manifesto launch last month, said Labour would take "millions of children out of poverty" with a "strong plan" to deal with issues that "bear down" on poverty, such as housing, education, health and good jobs. But campaigners criticised the absence of a pledge to scrap the cap and said any plan to reduce child poverty "won't get off the ground" until this happens.

Today's figures showed there were some 440,000 households in receipt of either universal credit or child tax credit who were not receiving the child element or amount for at least one child because of the policy, up from 409,050 as of April 2023.

The Resolution Foundation has said that abolishing the two-child limit would cost the Government somewhere between £2.5 billion and £3.6 billion in 2024/25, but that such costs are "low compared to the harm that the policy causes".

In its briefing in January, it said scrapping the two-child limit "would be one of the most efficient ways to drive down child poverty rates", estimating that if abolished at that point, 490,000 children would have been lifted out of poverty. After the latest figures, it said almost two in five large families in the UK are now affected, and things will get worse if it remains in place.

Lalitha Try, an economist at the foundation, said there is little evidence the policy has achieved its aims of boosting employment and reducing the number of children families have, but that there is "clear evidence of the financial losses that affected families are facing, and rising rates of poverty".

She added: "Unless the policy is abolished, the majority of children in large families will fall below the poverty line by the end of the parliament. Any new child poverty strategy should find the funds to remove it."

Action for Children said the figures "confirm the relentless expansion of this cruel policy, which creates and entrenches child poverty", while Save the Children described the statistics as "an outrage" showing how "more and more children will suffer every year just because they have siblings".

Barnardo's said it understood the Government was "having to make tough financial decisions", but families "need action urgently, starting with a change to this unfair policy".

Ms Kendall said: "Too many children are growing up in poverty and this is a stain on our society. We will work to give every child the best start in life by delivering our manifesto commitment to implement an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty. I will hold critical meetings with charities and experts next week to get this urgent work under way."

The Liberal Democrats described the policy, which came in under the Conservatives, as "cruel and counterproductive" and vowed to keep campaigning to scrap it.

The figures come as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said its survey of 560 families affected by the policy shows "the deep suffering and deprivation it's causing". Almost all of them (93%) said the policy had affected their ability to pay for food, while 82% said it meant they struggle to cover gas or electricity bills. Almost half (45%) of respondents said they struggled to pay their rent or mortgage because of the policy while (46%) described struggling to manage childcare costs.

CPAG has called on the Prime Minister to "send a clear signal" in next week's King's Speech that the two-child limit will be abolished this year.

CPAG chief executive Alison Garnham said: "The PM came to office pledging a bold, ambitious child poverty-reduction plan and there's no way to deliver on that promise without scrapping the two-child limit, and fast."