row over Labour’s plan to keep the Conservatives’ two-child benefit cap, which has been blamed for pushing families into poverty, spilled over into a meeting of the parliamentary party on Monday evening.
It is understood that a number of Labour MPs raised the issue, after Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday confirmed he would retain the two-child limit despite growing calls from poverty campaigners for the cap to be abandoned.
Earlier shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper insisted Labour must be “clear about what we can fund” as she emphasised the party’s focus on economic responsibility.
We’ve also been really clear that anything that we say has got to be funded
Deputy leader Angela Rayner addressed a meeting of the parliamentary party on Monday evening, which saw a number of backbenchers raise concerns about the approach taken by the leadership to the policy.
The move has prompted anger and disappointment from across the party and beyond the Labour left. Some among the Labour leader’s top team have previously expressed views that appear to diverge from the current party line.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth recently described the two-child benefit cap as “heinous” and “absolutely keeping children in poverty”.
He backed his leader on Monday, telling BBC Newsnight that his views on the matter were “well-documented”, but adding: “I have also been pretty critical of what the Conservatives have done to our economy, crashing our economy and being very cavalier with our public finances.
“We have got to be really disciplined in our approach to public spending and we cannot make unfunded spending commitments.”
One Labour MP at the meeting on Monday told the PA news agency that everyone who spoke was “unanimous” in condemning the two-child benefit cap.
They added that while it was understood the party had to be cautious on spending commitments, Labour “should not rule out” measures that effectively reduce child poverty.
Asked about Sir Keir’s comments earlier, Ms Cooper told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “What Labour’s been clear about is we have to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and we also will always make sure that the proposals we put forward are fully costed and funded so that we can actually deliver them, and I think that’s what people want to see.”
She pointed to measures Labour will fund to help tackle child poverty, including free breakfast clubs, helping people with their mortgages and reforming Universal Credit.
Ms Cooper told Sky News: “We opposed it when it first came in. And we have pointed out a whole series of different things that the Conservatives have done that are damaging, but we’ve also been really clear that anything that we say has got to be funded.”
The last Labour government went into the 1997 election “being really clear about only saying the things that we could fund, but we got the economy growing, we built our public services and we did a whole series of things that lifted families out of poverty,” she said.
The long-serving Labour MP said there had been a 40% increase in child poverty under the Tories and insisted a Labour government would address this.
The two-child cap prevents parents from claiming universal credit or child tax credit for a third or additional child born after April 2017.