Wes Streeting explains why Labour disagrees with Suella Braverman over scrapping two child benefit cap

Wes Streeting has defended his party’s policy not to scrap the cap on child benefit for just two children in each household.

His comments in an exclusive interview with The Independent came just ahead of rightwing former home secretary Suella Braverman shocking Westminster by calling for an end to the controversial policy brought in by the Tories during their coalition with the Lib Dems.

Labour had been in favour of scrapping the child benefit cap but reversed on the proposal late last summer because shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said it was unaffordable, provoking huge anger and debate in the party.

Mr Streeting was speaking to The Independent for a wider interview about his autobiographical book – One Boy, Two Bills and a Fry Up – in which he graphically describes growing up in poverty on east London council estates and how benefits allowed him and his mother to eat and put a coin in the electricity meter.

His comments were made before Ms Braverman published her article but explained why Labour does not currently support scrapping the cap.

In her article for The Daily Telegraph, Ms Braverman dedicated her thinking to the work of the late Labour peer, former MP and welfare reformer Frank Field.

Wes Streeting wants to consign child poverty to the history books (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
Wes Streeting wants to consign child poverty to the history books (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

She said: “The truth is that Conservatives should do more to support families and children on lower incomes... A crucial reform that Frank advocated was to scrap the two-child benefits limit, restricting child tax credits and universal credit to the first two children in a family. If they have a third or fourth child, a low-income family will lose about £3,200 per year.

“Over 400,000 families are affected and all the evidence suggests that it is not having the effect of increasing employment or alleviating poverty. Instead, it’s aggravating child poverty.”

Mr Streeting told The Independent that poverty in the UK is forcing women to choose to have abortions because they cannot aford to keep the child.

But when The Independent asked him about Labour’s U-turn on scrapping the two child benefit cap, he insisisted that dealing with child poverty was “more than just about handouts”.

Braverman wants to end the cap on child benefits (Getty Images)
Braverman wants to end the cap on child benefits (Getty Images)

He said: “I think that the answer on child poverty is all about social security. Of course, that’s part of it. I grew up on a council estate with a single mum, and often the benefit system put food in the fridge and money in the electric meter. I am a product of a welfare state that quite literally fed me and housed me and clothed me at points in my life.”

However, he went on: “I also know that that the answer to child poverty, ultimately, is not simply about handouts, it is about a social security safety net, that also acts as a springboard that helps people into work and with good work that makes the cost of living affordable for everyone.

“That means that if you aren’t doing the right thing, and earning a living and playing by the rules, that you don’t just have enough to make ends meet, but you have enough to do the things that make life worth living. And we’re some way from that from that now.”

He also repeated the message that the state of public debt and lack of money will tie Labour’s hands.

Mr Streeting noted: “We’ve got a difficult challenge to navigate, particularly in terms of public finances, but I just asked people to judge Labour on record of lifting a million children and pensioners as well actually lifted out of poverty under the last Labour government.

“I’ve no doubt that Labour government led by Kier Starmer, will also bring down child poverty in our country and work towards Labour’s historic aim of making sure that child poverty is consigned to the history books.”

When Sir Keir Starmer ditched the plans to scrap the two child benefit cap last July a number of Labour MPs including Stella Creasy, Rosie Duffield, and left-winger Lloyd Russell-Moyle as well as senior figures like Scottish leader Anas Sarwar spoke out against the U-turn.

The Fabian Society called it “nasty dog whistle politics” and the trade union Unison described it as “cruel”.

A longer interview with Mr Streeting will be published ahead of the Hay Festival, which runs from May 23 to June 2. Book tickets at hayfestival.com and read our highlights guide for more of our recommendations