Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:14 pm, 2nd July 2019

I am glad to be speaking for the Scottish National party in this debate, because it is an important issue on which I have campaigned for some time, particularly in relation to the two-child limit. I will discuss that in my speech.

It is perfectly clear that the welfare state is no longer a safety net for those who need it. It is a labyrinthine maze of bureaucracy, traps and loopholes to cheat people out of ever feeling safe or supported. The safety net is full of holes. This Chancellor, like the one before him—and, no doubt, the one to follow—has attempted to balance the books on the back of sick, disabled and vulnerable people. Even by the UK Government’s own flawed criteria, they have abjectly failed. The IFS has said that the Chancellor’s plan of running a budget surplus by the mid-2020s is no longer a sensible proposition. Public spending was as high in 2018 as it was in 2008, but what have we got to show for it? We have a rise in child poverty, in homelessness, and in food bank usage. In the fifth richest country in the world, that is a shameful situation. The two-child policy alone is expected to push thousands of families into poverty by the end of this Parliament. The Child Poverty Action Group has said that if we were to intentionally design a policy to put children into poverty, we could not do much better than that one.

The report “All Kids Count: the impact of the two-child limit after two years” was issued last week by the Church of England, CPAG, Women’s Aid, Turn2us and the Refugee Council, with support also from the Interlink Foundation, representing the Orthodox Jewish Community. It paints a stark picture: of families forced into poverty, debt and borrowing money from friends and family. I have to say that Mr Clarke is absolutely incorrect in so many of his assertions on this policy, because it will affect families in so many different ways and it absolutely traps them in a situation where they cannot work their way out of poverty. I commend this report to him, because it has modelled this. I commend him to read all of its details, because it makes it absolutely clear that families cannot compensate for the two-child poverty through work.

The report gives the example of a single parent with three children working 16 hours a week at the national living wage—the pretendy “living wage”—and says that she

“cannot ever compensate for the loss of a child element by increasing her hours, if she incurs childcare costs from doing so (because these are never covered in full by universal credit). Only if she can access free childcare (e.g. by using help from family members in addition to the free entitlement for 2-4 year-olds), can she compensate for the loss, but she would still have to more than double her hours from 16 to 40 per week.”

This is also true for families where there is a couple and for others: nobody can work their way out of the poverty caused by this policy.

The findings from a survey done on the two-child limit by those who are claiming are stark—the impact on those families is dreadful and in some cases it results in family breakdown. That ought to concern the Tories, who seem to like to maintain the family in all circumstances. I will read out some of the quotes. One read:

“I’ve recently split with my long-term partner and father of my four children. When I had my children, I did not intend to be a single parent—
and now that I am, I feel like I’m being penalised by the government.”

Another read:

“My partner became ill and unable to work due to disability and I’m now at home having to care for him and our four children. Me and my partner are literally not eating at all during the day to feed the children.”

I would like to see the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland try to justify why that is fair, because it is absolutely not.

The report shows 95% of families who responded reporting that the two-child limit has affected their ability to pay for basic living costs, with 88% saying it had affected their ability to pay for food, 88% saying it had affected their ability to pay for clothing, 71% saying it had affected their ability to pay for gas and electric—and the list goes on. This is absolutely catastrophic for these families and they cannot do anything to get out of the situation.