Cooper stresses fiscal restraint amid Labour row over two-child benefit cap

Yvette Cooper has this morning insisted Labour must be “clear about what we can fund” as a row grips the party over Sir Keir Starmer’s updated position on the two-child benefit cap.

The Labour leader confirmed yesterday that a Labour government would keep the controversial policy, introduced under the Conservatives. 

The two-child limit prevents parents from claiming child tax credit or universal credit for any third or subsequent child born after April 2017.

Sir Keir said on Sunday that he was “not changing that policy”, when asked if he would scrap it if Labour wins the next election. 

Speaking this morning, the shadow home secretary said: “The last Labour government cut child poverty and we are also saying again we’ve got to keep saying how it is we’ll pay for things”.

She pointed to a 40 per cent increase in child poverty under the Conservatives and insisted it was something the opposition wanted to fix.

“Because we have to address child poverty. That’s why the breakfast clubs are so important… and Jonathan Ashworth has also talked about the importance of reforming Universal Credit and having a proper long-term plan”, she told Sky News. 

But pushed multiple times on whether she supports keeping the cap, Ms Cooper evaded the question, insisting that any policy changes need to be fully funded.

Ms Cooper said: “We’ve just been really clear. We can only fund it… We’ve got to be clear about what we can fund and that’s why Keir Starmer’s set out the position. Because we’ve got to make sure that any policy that we propose, anything that we might want to change, anything we might not like that the Tories have done, we’ve still got to say how we’d fund it”.

A long-serving Labour MP, she noted that the party opposed it when it was introduced, and has consistently pointed out the negative effects on it, but added: “We’ve also been really clear that anything that we say has got to be funded”.

In an interview for the Mirror newspaper last month, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth called the cap “heinous”.

He said at the time: “We are very, very aware that this is one of the single most heinous elements of the system which is pushing children and families into poverty today,” he said.

He added that “the idea that this policy helps move people into work is completely offensive nonsense”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted in 2020 that the “obscene and inhumane two child cap must go”, linking to research which said it was a key factor contributing to women’s decisions to have abortions

Sir Keir’s confirmation that he would keep the policy has spilled into a row in the Labour party. 

Labour MP Meg Hillier told the BBC’s Westminster Hour programme: “Well, I was never comfortable about having the child benefit cap come in … personally, I’d be lobbying for a lifting of that”.

Labour chair of the work and pensions committee, Stephen Timms told the i newspaper that “it only really makes sense if you think that families should not have more than two children … as time goes on, the case for the two-child limit will be increasingly hard to make”.

The decision to keep the policy also comes as a major academic study into the effects of the two-child cap concluded the policy it has had a “poverty-producing” impact over the past six years.

The research, published on Monday morning by academics from the Universities of York, Oxford and LSE concluded the two-child limit had no positive incentive effect on employment, nor produced a reduction in fertility among poorer families.