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‘Stitch-up’ Labour candidate opposed Starmer on two-child benefit cap

01 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Torsten Bell. Image The Resoloution Foundation

Martin Shipton

One of the general election candidates imposed on Welsh seats by Labour recently wrote an article criticising Keir Starmer’s insistence on keeping the two-child benefit cap.

Drawing attention to the Guardian article written by Swansea West candidate Torsten Bell, Plaid Cymru said Mr Bell should explain whether loyalty to his party leader was now more important than his independence of thought.

On Friday (31 May) NationCymru revealed that Mr Bell, who has no known connection with Swansea or Wales, had been imposed on Swansea West without a vote by local party members. At the same time, Alex Barros-Curtis, a key aide to Keir Starmer who also has no discernible Welsh link, has been imposed on Cardiff West. In both cases, local party members have been angered at being excluded from the selection process.

Child poverty

In his article Mr Bell, who is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, argued that tackling child poverty should be a priority, and that scrapping the two-child rule was vital to achieving that.

He wrote: “What is the case for tackling child poverty? Can we make a dent in it? How? These questions have not been at the centre of British politics for the past 14 years, and the extent to which they will return to it under a Labour government remains to be seen. But they should. Here are five things anyone who wants to see Britain become a more equal country needs to know.

“Poverty has changed. In so many ways, not least the state of the economy and public finances, this is not 1997. On November 25 1997, just months after the New Labour government was formed, Gordon Brown introduced the annual winter fuel payment for all pensioners.

“He was reflecting the concerns not just of 1990s politicians but of anti-poverty campaigners too: the two great and equal evils to be alleviated were pensioner poverty and child poverty. The inequality surge of the 1980s had left both sky-high: in 1990 almost 40% of pensioners and more than 30% of children were in poverty. It was no country to grow up or grow old in.

“But today pensioner poverty levels have been halved to 16%, while, in contrast, child deprivation has stayed stubbornly high: 30% in Britain today are growing up in poverty.

“There are still too many poor pensioners but, for the first time in history, older people are now less likely to be in poverty than the rest of the population. The retired have bucked Britain’s income stagnation trend with 24% income growth between 2004/05 and 2021/22, in contrast with 11% growth for the rest of the population. So the good news is that economic outcomes for older age groups are far rosier than they used to be. Child poverty is where the focus must be in the 2020s.

“Child poverty is about larger families. On February 23 2024, the Office for National Statistics announced that 2022 had seen 605,479 babies born in England and Wales. The fertility rate, consistently falling since 2010, had dropped to 1.49 children per woman, the lowest since comparable records began in the 1930s and far below that needed to maintain our population without migration.

‘Poverty guarantee’

He added: “Politicians of left and right worried about what this meant for our society and economy, but should we be surprised people are having fewer children? For too many families, having a third child or more comes with a poverty guarantee: 46% of children in larger families (with three or more children) are now in poverty, up from 36% in 2011/12. In fact all of the rise in child poverty over the past decade is about rising poverty among larger families.

“It’s the lives behind the statistics that matter. If poverty statistics do not convince you, then think about what this means families are living through. Larger families are now four times as likely to have had to rely on a food bank as smaller families, and three-quarters of larger families are materially deprived (which means going without essentials such as a winter coat for children), compared with one in three families with fewer than three children.

“Everyone pays the price of a high-poverty Britain. When 11% of teenagers say they are missing at least a meal a week, compared with 2.6% in (much poorer) Portugal, it’s the next generation of workers who are too hungry to be able to learn as they should in school. As councils go bust around the country, one contributing factor is them having to find the money to house a record number of homeless families with children.

“Progress can be made. We must not let stubbornly high child poverty rates turn us into fatalists. Hundreds of thousands of children were taken out of poverty under the last Labour government. And those pensioner poverty falls also show how much things can change. Consider this – higher employment that has particularly benefited poorer households and big minimum wage increases mean that Britain would actually have become more equal over the past decade, if it wasn’t for benefit cuts that hammered the incomes of poorer households by an average of £2,800.

“The lesson? If we combine market reforms to tilt labour and housing markets in the interests of lower-income families, with redistribution, then poverty can and will fall. Let’s make that concrete. Scrapping the two-child benefit cap has real costs (£2.5bn) but they are nothing compared to the costs of keeping it: abolition will immediately lift about half a million children out of poverty. Change can come.”

Committed

Yet Keir Starmer has made it clear that Labour will not be able to afford scrapping the two-child benefit cap if it wins the general election, Keir Starmer. The Labour leader told STV News that while he was committed to ending child poverty, he would not make promises he couldn’t afford.

Speaking during his general election campaign launch in Scotland last week, he was asked whether he listened to Scottish Labour’s calls for the two-child limit to be scrapped.

“Of course,” he said, “and Anas [Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar] and I discussed it because he and I are both committed to eradicating child poverty.”

Pressed on whether that would mean ending the Tory policy, Sir Keir said: “What I will do is only make promises I know we can afford. It is not our policy for a reason. We are not going to be able to afford to scrap it because of the damage the Tories have done. It doesn’t mean we won’t have an anti-poverty strategy for children across Scotland”, he said.

Plaid Cymru’s social justice spokesperson Sioned Williams, a South Wales West regional MS, said: “When Labour candidates are parachuted into Welsh seats, the least voters should expect is transparency on where they stand on important issues.

“Only two weeks ago, Torsten Bell was setting out how scrapping the two child benefit cap would immediately lift about half a million children out of poverty. Regrettably, his party boss who helped him find this constituency disagrees.

“Keir Starmer is notorious for wanting every Labour candidate to sing from the same hymn sheet and Mr Bell should come clean on whether his loyalty to the Labour whip is more important than his independence of thought. Labour voters who want to end the two child cap can vote for Plaid Cymru on July 4.”


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Ann
Ann
16 days ago

Note an error in paragraph 3 of this article – Friday (June 31st),

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
16 days ago
Reply to  Ann

2024 I take it?

Mandi A
Mandi A
16 days ago

“Alex Barros-Curtis, a key aide to Keir Starmer who also has no discernible Welsh link”

Just to note that Alexandre Samuel and his sister are both registered born within Rhuddlan district, that’s North Wales Ysbyty Bodelwyddan

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
16 days ago

The Resolution Foundation is a great organisation but imposing a Labour candidate from England on a Welsh constituency is so anti democratic. So wrong. Says all you need to know about Starmer and his Labour Party. Centralised, undemocratic and right wing, a red tory monetarist party. I am surprised Bell wants to be associated with them

Keith Parry
Keith Parry
16 days ago

Plaid Cymru has been propping up Labour for years. Now an election is at hand trying to distance themselves from them. Its too late. VOTE PROPEL!

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
16 days ago

Starmer is lying. There is plenty of money, if he chooses to access it. Simply taxing the very rich, i.e. those with more than £10 million, properly would deliver substantial amounts of cash. Ditto for closing the tax avoidance loopholes used by global players like Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft etc. Could also end the corporate welfare that sees at least £55 billion a year go to for-profit companies as sweeteners or grants. Starmer could do all he promised he would when he stood for the position of party leader. It’s a case of whether or not he has the will, obviously… Read more »

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
16 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Have you thought of standing for parliament? You would make a stonking chancellor

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
15 days ago

The NEC has been stockpiling parachutes.

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