Why the two-child benefit cap needs to go

Addressing child poverty is about the future health of the country.

Child hold woman's hand at a table. She has her head in her hands and there is an open purse on the table with just a few pence spilling out of it.


This week there has been quite a bit of discussion about the two-child benefit cap and child poverty, a subject that doesn’t often make the headlines but should. The cap, introduced by the Conservatives in 2017, has increased child poverty significantly, affecting around two million children, and we are only in the early days. The longer the cap stays in place the more the children that are affected.

A recent TUC report says the combination of wage stagnation, insecure work and benefits cuts are the main factors driving child poverty while the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that 30% of children now live in households below the poverty line, up from 27% in 2010 and predicts that an additional 670,000 children will be affected by the two-child limit by the end of the next parliament.

Labour’s leader Sir Keir Starmer says he is “not immune” to the argument to scrap the cap, but there is nothing in the Labour manifesto about it and the party is trying very hard to stick to its spending limits amid pressure from all sides about various urgent issues and to look like it can be trusted with people’s finances.

The reason the cap matters is that this is about the long term. The impact of child poverty is lasting and once children fall behind it is very difficult to catch up. We’ve seen this in the argument about early years funding too. We know that if children start primary school behind they tend to stay behind with all the implications that has for their longer term future, for their employment prospects, their health and their ability to get out of poverty.

Apart form the moral issue of bridging the inequality gap, there are, of course, costs involved in not lifting people out of poverty, including health implications, not to mention the cost to the country of failing to make the most of people’s potential.

If Labour wins the election, they will certainly have a very full in-tray, but tackling the glaring inequality that exists in Britain today must surely be a priority and a common good. That case needs to be made passionately and support needs to be targeted most specifically at those who have suffered most from the impact of austerity.

I had a conversation the other day with a mum whose children go to private school. She was arguing against the imposition of VAT on private schools in part on the grounds that many families who send their kids to private school are ‘scrimping and saving’ to give their children a better future. Private school fees cost around 10,000 pounds a term. Anyone who can afford that is unlikely to be scrimping and saving in the same way that, say, a single mum who is forfeiting meals to look after her child might be.

Sometimes, perhaps, we need to take a bit of a step back and see the wider picture.


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