Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar calls on Keir Starmer to scrap ‘wrong’ two-child benefit cap

Anas Sarwar has said that the two-child benefit cap implemented by the previous Conservative government is “wrong”, and has urged Sir Keir Starmer’s government to scrap it.

The Scottish Labour leader said that ditching the cap, which has been described by campaigners as “cruel”, would depend on being able to grow the economy.

However, he insisted that his party would be “pushing at an open door” for the abolition of the policy, which was introduced by George Osborne in 2017 with the effect that child tax credits and universal credit are paid only in respect of the first two children in most households.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have made a manifesto commitment to scrapping the cap. Sir Keir said it was a “tough decision” not to promise to scrap it, but that he would not make “unfunded promises”.

Mr Sarwar told the Daily Record: “We will continue to push for it to happen, and we want to make sure we’re part of helping create the economic conditions to make that happen.

“But I honestly believe we are pushing at an open door. This is a government that wants to do even more than it promised to do, but we’re going to do it in the right way.”

Prime minister Keir Starmer (right) and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during an event in Edinburgh to welcome new Labour MPs in Scotland following Labour’s victory in the 2024 general election (PA)
Prime minister Keir Starmer (right) and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during an event in Edinburgh to welcome new Labour MPs in Scotland following Labour’s victory in the 2024 general election (PA)

Asked to describe the two-child benefit cap, he added: “Not right, wrong; needs to be reversed. And that’s why we are getting on with the work of changing our country.”

Research published prior to the general election by think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) indicated that the number of children affected by the two-child benefit cap will rise by a third over the next five years.

The cap currently affects 2 million children, with more affected each year as it applies to those born after 5 April 2017.

Next year, it will apply to 250,000 more children, rising to 670,000 before the end of the next parliament if the policy is not reformed, according to the think tank.

IFS research economist Eduin Latimer said: “The two-child limit is one of the most significant welfare cuts since 2010, and, unlike many of those cuts, it becomes more important each year as it is rolled out to more families.”

Labour’s refusal to commit to dropping the policy has irked anti-poverty campaigners, who say the cap is a significant driver of child poverty in the UK.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown also weighed in prior to the general election and said it “should be scrapped” as it was condemning children to live in poverty.

Mubin Haq, chief executive of the abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, which funded the IFS research, said: “The limit has been a significant contributor to child poverty amongst large families during a period when poverty for families with one or two children fell. If the next government is serious about tackling child poverty, it will need to review the two-child limit.

“There is an inherent unfairness in the policy as it affects only those children born after April 5 2017. The majority of families affected are in work, or have caring responsibilities for disabled relatives or young children.”

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Child poverty in the UK is a national disgrace, and the biggest driver of it is the two-child limit. It makes life worse for kids up and down the country and limits their future chances.

“Children affected by child poverty don’t have a voice in this election, but politicians from all parties have a responsibility to them to show leadership. Any government serious about making things better for the next generation will have to scrap the two-child limit, and do so quickly.”