Stormont parties urged to back Opposition motion to stop two-child benefit limit

Northern Ireland’s administration is to be urged to remove the two-child limit for benefits payments as a key move to tackle childhood poverty.

Some one in five children in the region are living in relative poverty, an Audit Office report found, while almost one in 10 households are struggling to afford basic goods amid the cost-of-living crisis.

On the second Opposition Day to take place at Stormont on Tuesday, the SDLP will propose a series of motions to address “the shame of poverty”.

Stormont Assembly
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (centre), with South Belfast MP Claire Hanna (left) and Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole at the first Opposition Day at Stormont (Rebecca Black/PA)

These include motions to place an obligation on ministers to bring a commitment in the Programme for Government to eradicate poverty, an updated fuel poverty strategy, and a permanent ban on no-fault evictions.

The Opposition also proposed a motion on reducing child poverty on Monday.

Proposed by Opposition leader Matthew O’Toole, and seconded by East Londonderry MLA Cara Hunter, the motion calls on Communities Minister Gordon Lyons to introduce a comprehensive child poverty strategy by September, which would include specific and measurable targets to reduce child poverty by the end of this mandate.

Mr O’Toole said that, taken together, the interventions would “form the basis of a comprehensive and powerful strategy to address poverty which costs hundreds of lives in Northern Ireland each year”.

Tuesday will be the second Opposition Day this mandate following the resumption of devolved government earlier this year.

The SDLP took the decision to go into Opposition at that point, aiming to scrutinise the work of the Executive.

The first of the motions on Tuesday calls for the removal of the two-child limit for a key benefit payment.

From 2017, families in receipt of Universal Credit no longer receive an additional amount for a third or subsequent child born on or after April 6 2017 unless special circumstances apply.

Charities working to support those in poverty have consistently called for the rule to be scrapped, describing it as harmful, and contending its removal would lift a quarter of a million children in the UK out of poverty overnight.

The estimated cost in Northern Ireland of introducing mitigations to lift the rule in the region has been calculated at around £45 million.

The Opposition has suggested this could be covered by the increased revenue from the rates rise, as well as reforming rates relief for vacant non-domestic property.

It has also suggesting stopping a £2.3 million annual subsidy on long-haul flights to Northern Ireland where a transatlantic route has not operated in more than four years.

Mr O’Toole said removing the two-child limit will bring long-term savings.

He said experts agree that the “pernicious limit” has a “disproportionate effect on pushing families and children into poverty and keeping them there”.

“Our proposal is practical and costed, and we are urging the Executive parties to agree to it,” he said.

Save the Children NI welcomed the Opposition Day motions, and called for “encouraging words to be converted into policy action”.

Naomi McBurney, policy and public affairs adviser for Save the Children NI, said: “We are fully behind the SDLP’s motion to remove the two-child limit.

“The policy is deeply unfair and is the biggest driver of child poverty across the UK.

“Every child deserves an equal opportunity, and this cruel policy is robbing thousands of children of a secure future, by restricting financial support when it is needed most.

“Scrapping the sibling tax should be a priority for the Northern Ireland Executive – children living in poverty can’t wait around for change.”