Wes Streeting defends Archbishop of Canterbury’s attack on two-child benefit cap – ‘literally his job’

The Archbishop slammed the cap as ‘cruel’ and called on Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer to commit to scrapping it

Kate Devlin,Alexander Butler
Sunday 19 May 2024 14:32 BST
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Wes Streeting pulls out prompt card to remember Keir Starmer's key Labour pledge

Wes Streeting has defended the Archbishop of Canterbury after he slammed the two-child benefit cap as “cruel” and urged Sir Keir Starmer to scrap it.

Justin Welby said the limit, which restricts child benefit entitlement to two children per household, was neither “moral nor necessary” and it fell short of “our values as a society”.

The prime minister has pledged to keep the policy if the Tories remain in power and Sir Keir has so far resisted calls to dump it.

Tory MPs have hit out at church leaders for intervening in politics, but shadow health secretary Mr Streeting said he welcomed the comments.

He told Sky News: “I really welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention. You're never going to find, if there's a Labour government, politicians being sent out to attack the Archbishop of Canterbury for virtue signalling as Conservative MPs have done.

“It is literally his job, he is the one person in the country whose job it is to signal virtue. If the mission of the church is not to alleviate poverty and suffering, I don't know what is.”

Sir Keir said tackling child poverty was ‘central’ to a Labour government but has so far resisted calls to scrap the policy
Sir Keir said tackling child poverty was ‘central’ to a Labour government but has so far resisted calls to scrap the policy (Victoria Jones/PA Wire)

“The two-child limit falls short of our values as a society. It denies the truth that all children are of equal and immeasurable worth, and will have an impact on their long-term health, wellbeing and educational outcomes,” the Archbishop told The Observer.

“This cruel policy is neither moral nor necessary. We are a country that can and should provide for those most in need, following the example of Jesus Christ, who served the poorest in society.”

Sir Keir was challenged on his position over the policy, introduced by the Conservatives in 2017, when he launched his plan for Labour’s “first steps” in office on Thursday.

He said tackling child poverty was “central to an incoming Labour government” but “what I can’t do is make promises that I can’t deliver on”.

Earlier former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown lashed out at the “inequities” of the policy and said it “should be scrapped” before the next general election.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Brown said the cap was “condemning children to poverty”.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said the two-child benefit cap was ‘condemning children to poverty’
Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said the two-child benefit cap was ‘condemning children to poverty’ (PA Wire)

He said: “The tragedy is we are now writing the future history of our country by neglecting children who we have condemned to poverty and not being able to have a decent start in life who are going to fail in the future.”

Mr Brown warned that the entire family, not just the third or fourth child, is affected by the two-child limit, with the average family being left £60 worse off each week.

“A family on low pay or a family that is struggling cannot afford to lose £60 a week. I think we have got to rethink that,” he said.

“Just remember that poverty went up by about 600,000 in the last few years. It is going to continue to grow if we don’t do something about these problems.”

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