Bishop of Durham: Covid-19 crisis has amplified child poverty, we should suspend benefit cap and two-child limit

On 30th April 2020 in a virtual sitting the House of Lords debated a Motion in the name of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of people who will be (1) living in poverty, or (2) unable to meet their basic needs, as a result of COVID-19; and what steps they are taking to support such people.” The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in the debate:


The Lord Bishop of Durham:  My Lords, the Covid-19 crisis has amplified child poverty. The welcome measures that raised UC and increased LHA show that radical government action is possible, but they have highlighted two policies as unfair. The first is the two-child limit. Recent events demonstrate life’s unpredictability. It exposes the flawed view of how the two-child limit policy was set up. Children should not be penalised for changing circumstances. Up to 60,000 families may find themselves affected in the coming weeks. Next week, the Church of England and CPAG will publish a report exploring the policy’s impact on these families.

Secondly, many will not benefit from welfare increases because of the benefit cap. Current constraints mean that parents cannot escape by increasing working hours, finding a new job or moving into cheaper housing. Families are trapped in poverty. We must prioritise the poorest, with a compassionate, just safety net. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider suspending the two-child limit and benefit cap at least for the duration of the pandemic?


Baroness Sherlock (Lab):…Abolish the two-child limit, as recommended by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and I have had many conversations about the support for a maximum of two children. The Government and I understand where he is coming from and I have no doubt that the campaign for this will continue. We recognise that some claimants cannot make the same choice about the number of children in their family. That is why exceptions are in place. However, I must reiterate that families on benefits should have to make the same financial decisions as families supporting themselves financially. We feel that this is really important.

The benefit cap was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Bowles, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. It is to be reviewed once in each Parliament; I know that it was not done in the last Parliament and we are waiting for the Secretary of State to decide if and when to do it in this Parliament. However, existing and new claimants may benefit from a nine-month grace period when their universal credit will not be capped, if they have a sustained work record. Claimants can approach their local authority for discretionary housing payments if they need additional help…

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