Bishop of Durham: ‘We must act urgently to abolish cruel two-child benefit cap’

Unlike policies, a childhood cannot be reversed, nor revised at a later date. Each of us only have one childhood, and the experiences we have in these formative years shape the rest of our lives. Every child matters equally whether they are the first, or the third or later born in a family. Eliminating child poverty cannot be put on the waiting list of issues to address or pushed to a later date, but must be made a priority now.

Last week, Keir Starmer confirmed that a Labour Government would continue the current Government’s policy of the two-child benefit cap. This policy limits the payments that families in receipt of Universal Credit receive to only their first two children and was introduced in 2014 to ensure that ‘people on benefits face the same choices as those in work’.

The reasoning behind the policy does not stand true, as 58 percent of families affected by the limit are in fact households with at least working adult. The cap has instead had a detrimental impact on the lives of families across the country, and the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that the policy is pushing approximately one million children into poverty for prolonged periods. 

Child poverty increases the likelihood of lower educational outcomes, as well as poorer mental and physical health. Those who experience it are also more likely to require support from public services later in life, negating any short-term benefits to the country’s finances that continuing to implement the cap would have. Removing the two-child limit would be the most cost-effective way of reducing the number of children living in poverty and would immediately lift an estimated 250,000 children out of poverty.

The Labour and Conservative parties have expressed their desire to achieve economic growth, yet both parties have neglected to approach the issue of growth with a long-term vision. Their priorities must be reconsidered. Sustainable economic growth requires a population that is skilled and healthy – both factors that suffer due to experiencing poverty in childhood. Continuing to implement such a policy limits the future opportunities and life chances for children today and will have a detrimental long-term impact on not only individual lives, but the country as a whole. Failing to tackle child poverty now will create greater problems in the long term.

Over the past year, my Private Members’ Bill to abolish the two-child limit has been making its way through Parliament and is awaiting its first reading in the House of Commons this Autumn. My hope is that this Bill will bring an end to this cruel policy, allowing all children to flourish and reach their full potential, regardless of the number of siblings they may have. I recognise that due to both Parliamentary processes and the current political climate this Bill will not become law. It requires Government support and action.

The two-child limit has now been law for six years, creating six years of irreversible damage. It has removed the safety net that Universal Credit is intended to provide if families unexpectedly fall into poverty and denies them the support needed to help them back on their feet.

Every child matters; each one is valuable in God’s sight. How a society values and supports its most vulnerable, which must include children, is a mark of its true worth. Abolishing the two child limit policy is urgent, as we each only get to experience these early foundational years once. I therefore urge all parties to truly consider the consequences of continuing to implement the two-child limit. Although a policy may not be permanent, its impact can last a lifetime.