Labour must go 'much further' in tackling child poverty, Liz Kendall admits

Labour needs to go “much, much further” in tackling child poverty, the party’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has admitted, as pressure mounts on Sir Keir Starmer to scrap the two-child benefit cap.

In an interview with the Standard, Liz Kendall hinted that the cap could be removed once Labour has completed the “first steps” set out in its manifesto, if it wins the election.

But she also stressed that Labour was being “honest with people” by not making unfunded commitments, and has “a bold and ambitious cross-government strategy to tackle child poverty”.

Introduced by George Osborne when he was chancellor, the two-child benefit cap means low-income parents are denied key benefits, including universal credit, for their third and any subsequent children born from April 2017.

The policy already applies to about two million children, but by the end of the next parliament it will affect an additional 670,000, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said this week.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby have both called for the cap to be scrapped, along with several charities and anti-poverty campaigners. But the move - estimated to cost £1.3bn per year - was not included in Labour’s manifesto and Sir Keir has refused to set out a timeline for removing it in future.

“I’m not going to put a date on these things, but I’m not immune from just how powerful an argument this is,” the Labour leader said this week, referring to the IFS figures.

Asked whether she was also “not immune”, Ms Kendall said: “It's a Tory policy, and we voted against it [when it was introduced]. I am passionate about tackling child poverty.

“That's why we have a commitment to a bold and ambitious cross-government strategy to tackle child poverty in our manifesto and that starts with free breakfast clubs in every primary school, a big warm homes initiative to make sure homes are insulated, our plans for a genuine living wage, our back to work plan, our plan to create more jobs.

“Look, I know there's much, much further that we need to go, but we are also honest with people that we won't make promises that we can't keep or we can't show how we'll deliver.

“That is a real priority for me, tackling child poverty. We've set out our first steps, but I know there's further to go.”

Asked whether she found it hard telling voters that Labour will not scrap the cap, Ms Kendall added: “There are many things that are hard for me. The fact that the Tories have slashed council funding by a third, the state of local housing, overcrowding, damp conditions.

“The fact that people are desperately waiting for care in the NHS, many people forced to wait in pain or pay to go private. The fact that families who have suffered huge injustices are waiting years because of court backlogs.

“All of those things I am angry about, but we cannot do everything overnight. Our firm commitment to people is we will bring those child poverty numbers down, by getting people into work, and better-paid work, and doing all those other things that I've talked about.”

Sir Keir told Sky News last week it was a “really difficult decision” not to commit to the cap’s removal but that Labour would “inherit a broken economy” after the election and he won’t “make promises that I can’t keep”.

The general election will be held on Thursday, July 4.