Swinney: Scottish Labour should stand up to Starmer over two-child benefit cap

Scotland’s First Minister has challenged Scottish Labour to stand up to Sir Keir Starmer in demanding an end to the two-child benefit cap.

John Swinney has said the 2017 policy, which restricts child tax and universal credits to the first two children in the majority of households, was politically “indefensible”.

It also comes with an associated rape clause which allows women who conceived a subsequent child through coercion or abuse to apply for an exemption.

Pressure has been mounting on Sir Keir to scrap the cap after the party’s manifesto included a desire to reduce child poverty but failed to mention the specific policy.

General Election campaign 2024
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Anas Sarwar has said his Scottish Labour party backed scrapping the limit but now faces additional calls to convince his UK party to take the same approach.

It comes as Mr Sarwar sets out his party’s manifesto on Tuesday amid warnings from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) that the number of children impacted by the cap will rise to about 670,000 in the next five years, while 250,000 will be affected next year.

Appealing to Mr Sarwar, SNP leader Mr Swinney said: “If Labour’s manifesto is to be believed, they have the financial headroom to scrap this policy – that they are refusing to do so is clearly an attempt to talk tough on social security as they seek right-wing votes south of the border.

“Politics is about choices – and Labour is choosing to prioritise austerity over lifting thousands of children out of poverty. It is a completely indefensible political decision.

“Anas Sarwar also has a choice – he can choose doing the right thing for vulnerable children in Scotland, or doing what he is told by Keir Starmer. That is a decision that will speak volumes – and the people of Scotland will be watching.”

He added: “That Labour under Keir Starmer intend to continue with this Tory policy makes clear just how far removed they are from Scotland’s values.

“I am calling on Anas Sarwar and Labour in Scotland to join with me in demanding that Keir Starmer immediately change course and abandon this hated Tory policy.”

Scottish Labour social justice spokesperson Paul O’Kane said: “Tackling child poverty has been part of Labour’s mission from day one – as our record in government makes clear.

“But right across Scotland, children have been let down by the toxic combination of two bad governments.

“The Tory government in Westminster has shown how little it cares about Scotland’s kids, but the SNP is also trying to deflect blame.

“John Swinney, Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon have all broken promises, having presided over virtually static rates for children in poverty.

“A UK Labour government with Scottish MPs at its heart will tackle poverty at its root by making work pay, cutting bills, growing our economy, supporting affordable housing and reviewing Universal Credit.

“Scotland’s young people deserve a better future.”