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Kinship Carers: Two-child Limit Policy

Volume 787: debated on Monday 11 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government why kinship carers who subsequently have their own child are not exempt from the two child limit.

My Lords, the Government acknowledge the immense value of care provided by kinship carers. We are working to ensure that they are supported by enabling them to access benefit entitlement in the same way as parents. We have introduced a number of exceptions to the policy providing support for a maximum of two children, to protect claimants who are unable to make choices about the size of their family. These already protected certain groups, including kindship carers. The department will keep, and is keeping, the impact of its policies on kinship carers under consideration.

My Lords, the reason why kinship carers were exempted from the two-child policy is that this House voted that it should be so. The Minister will be aware of the case, raised by my honourable friend Melanie Onn, of Alyssa Vessey. When Alyssa was 18, her mother died suddenly so she gave up college to care for her three younger siblings. This year, four years later, she has had her own baby. She applied for tax credits and a Sure Start maternity grant but she was turned down under the two-child policy. The reason is that the Government chose to implement the exemption in such a way that if Alyssa already had her own child and then took on her siblings she could get benefits for them, but because she took her siblings on and then had her own baby she was denied that support. Can the Minister explain this? When will the Government put it right?

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness opposite is aware that we are very much cognisant of this particular case. Indeed, my honourable friend in the other place who is the Minister responsible for this area, Caroline Dinenage MP, has responded with considerable sympathy with regard to this particular case. However, the Government believe all children should be treated equally and encourage parents to take the decision to have more children based on whether they can afford to support additional children.

My Lords, do the Government understand and accept that the callous restriction of this policy penalises children by putting a further 300,000 of them into poverty by 2022? Is that government policy?

My Lords, the Government are looking at this policy at the moment, as I have already said. We do not believe we are being callous. The Government’s view is that providing support for a maximum of two children in universal credit and child tax credit will ensure fairness between claimants on the one hand and, on the other hand, those taxpayers who support themselves solely through work.

My Lords, I had understood when this matter was discussed that the theory underlying the proposal was that those who by their own choice landed themselves with more than two children had to support the extra children with whom they had landed themselves. However, the case that we have just been talking about is not that; there was at the very least a moral obligation for that lady to take her siblings. It would therefore be right to say that it is not in accordance with the principle underlying the proposal that this case should be treated as it apparently has been so far. I hope the Government will reconsider it.

I have to say that we have already said that we have responded with enormous sympathy to this. The policy is currently under review, but it should also be made clear that the Government have assessed the impact of the policy from an equality and human rights perspective throughout its development and in its implementation, thus meeting our obligations under the public sector equality duty and ensuring compliance with human rights and other international obligations.

My Lords, the Government have chosen to pursue a deficit-reduction strategy by opting for a fiscally cautious welfare policy. However, has the Minister considered that some British families are larger for reasons of faith or principle? Speaking on behalf of people of all faiths in this country, my question is: what plans does the Minister have for ensuring that such families and children are not discriminated against by the policy?

My Lords, as I have already said, there is nothing to stop anyone having a large family. There is total freedom of choice to have a large family. However, the Government’s view is that we have to be fair between those claimants on the one hand and, on the other hand, those taxpayers who support their own children solely through work.

My Lords, will the Minister take the temperature of the House on this issue and listen with great care to the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern? Can she really defend the Government’s view that this policy, which is a technical misinterpretation of the will of the House and Parliament when it put these provisions in, can possibly be, as she says, fair and in the interests of equality for the children in this or any other family in these very unusual and, I suspect, not very expensive situations?

Given her long experience and expertise in this House, the noble Baroness will understand that, as a Lords Minister, my position is somewhat constrained. As I said, my honourable friend in another place is very aware of this case, and this policy is being considered as we speak.

Will the Government honour their promise to this House on 27 January 2016 that children in kinship care should be exempt from the two-child limit on benefits and tax credits? The limit is intended to deter people from having more than two children where they cannot afford them, not to deter or punish kinship carers who take on the care of vulnerable children who might otherwise go into care. That distinction was accepted by the Government. Will they please now implement the commitment that they gave to this House on 27 January 2016, quite explicitly and without reservation?

My Lords, I ought to make it clear that, as the noble Baroness will be aware, there is no punishment. If a family has already had two children of their own, there is nothing to stop them taking on other children as kinship carers. In that case, those children will be exemptions to this rule.