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Scrap two-child limit on benefits, urge government’s social mobility advisers

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20/07/2021 Patrick Butler Social policy editor
Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

The government’s social mobility advisers have called for a £14bn overhaul of the UK benefits system, including scrapping the two-child limit on benefits and raising child benefit by £10 a week, to cut poverty and narrow the growing gulf between rich and poor.

The eye-catching recommendation on benefits is part of a wider set of Social Mobility Commission (SMC) proposals to put disadvantaged youngsters at the heart of the UK’s pandemic recovery, and comes a fortnight after ministers confirmed they would cut universal credit rates by £20 a week in the autumn.

The commission also proposes extra investment in childcare and education to provide more financial and practical support for disadvantaged students, including an expansion of “catch-up” tutoring to narrow soaring school attainment gaps between disadvantaged and privileged children.

Bold action to tackle rising poverty and inequalities fuelled by Covid-19 was urgently needed. It said: “The pandemic will have a profound impact on the UK over the next decades. There is a huge risk that the gulf between the rich and poor will continue to grow ever wider and deeper.”

Failure to act would consign the next generation of deprived youngsters to “decades of hardship” with the risk that social mobility grinds to a halt in the face of widening inequalities, it said in its annual State of the Nation report.

It justified what it admitted would be a “hefty price tag” for its proposals on the grounds that taking 1.5 million children out of poverty would lead to better education outcomes, increased earnings and improved life expectancy. “Ultimately, it benefits everyone in society when we are better off,” it said.

The Social Mobility Commission said without urgent investment the next generation face ‘decades of hardship’ © Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian The Social Mobility Commission said without urgent investment the next generation face ‘decades of hardship’

Video: New petition calls for State Pension age to be lowered to 60 to ‘free up jobs for young people’ (Daily Record)


Sandra Wallace, interim co-chair of the SMC, said ministers must not shy away from difficult decisions. “Now is the moment to level up opportunities for children across the country. Ending child poverty and investing significantly in education are two of the most impactful and influential things the UK government can do to improve social mobility.”

It praised the government for “digging deep” to provide financial support for businesses and individuals hit by the pandemic, but says it must now take the same decisive action to kickstart flagging social mobility.

People should be as much a part of the government’s levelling-up plans as physical infrastructure, it said – and added that now was not the time to cut public spending. Taxes should be levied on the wealthiest to pay for investment – and it warned “small funding packages on the margins” would have little impact.

Nearly one in three children in the UK – around 4.3 million – now lived in poverty, and millions of low-income families would be worse off when the £20 uplift to universal credit is removed in September, it said. It urged ministers to draw up a poverty reduction strategy for England, where child poverty rates were the UK’s highest.

The commission called for a £10 a week rise in the child element of universal credit, in legacy benefits, and child benefit. It urged the scrapping of the two-child limit on benefits, which currently affects over a million children, and called for a reassessment of the benefit cap, currently affecting 200,000 households.

“With the will, the UK government could immediately lift 1.5 million children out of poverty. This would raise life outcomes for millions of children, and make a significant, positive impact on social mobility at the same time,” it said.

A government spokesperson said: “We know that children in households where every adult is working are much less likely to be in poverty. That’s why our multi-billion pound plan for jobs is helping people across the country improve their skills and move forward in their working lives. We also have a comprehensive childcare offer for working parents, while universal credit has supported millions throughout the pandemic.

“This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind. That’s why we are providing the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade, investing in early years education and targeting our ambitious recovery funding to support disadvantaged pupils with their attainment.”

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust social mobility charity, said the commission’s report made “devastating” reading. He added: “As our research has shown – and today’s report brings into sharp focus – it’s those from poorer homes whose future prospects are likely to be catastrophic.”

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