Sir Keir Starmer has appeared to soften his stance on keeping the two-child benefit cap if Labour wins the next election as he fights off SNP attacks ahead of a key by-election.
The Labour leader was speaking earlier today at an event with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar in at Rutherglen Town Hall in South Lanarkshire ahead of a by-election due to take place in the autumn.
Sir Keir provoked widespread anger in Labour and SNP circles in July when he said he would not scrap the controversial policy that restricts child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a family, with few exceptions.
Mr Sarwar has previously spoken out against the policy that has been found to have pushed an additional 20,000 children in Scotland into poverty since it was introduced by the Conservatives in 2017.
Speaking at the “in conversation” event earlier today, Sir Keir and Mr Sarwar denied that there were divisions between them, and Sir Keir appeared to soften his stance on keeping the controversial policy, saying if Labour enters government it would ensure welfare policies “operate more fairly”.
Asked directly about the two-child benefits cap, he appeared to open the door to scrapping the benefits cap in the future, saying that there are “difficult decisions that we will have to make as an incoming Labour government”, and there are things he would like to do that he won’t be able to do immediately given the state of the public finances.
Sir Keir also said there is “nothing to say an incoming Labour government can’t make sure that the policies we’ve got can operate more fairly”, in reference to scrapping the associated rape clause, which requires women to disclose their child was conceived as a result of rape to get around the benefit cap.
He continued: “What we’re being absolutely clear about is an anti-poverty strategy driven by an incoming Labour government will focus on growing the economy and making sure we get that growth in every part of the country.”
“The single worst thing you could do for child poverty is to re-elect a Tory government or re-elect another SNP government here in Scotland,” he added.
The Labour leader also hit out at the “false sense of division” between himself and Mr Sarwar, who added that there is a “really strong ongoing dialogue” between the two sides of the party.
He turned his anger on to the SNP, saying they are “hurling insults because they’ve got nothing better to do”.
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Stephen Flynn MP on two-child benefit policy
He said it is “just ridiculous” to say there is no difference between Labour and the Tories, citing his “ambitious” goal of achieving the highest sustained growth in the G7, and “smashing the class ceiling” across the UK.
He added: “If they had a record to stand on of delivery, they’d stand on that record. They’ve got no record, that’s why they’re sinking to this.”
The Labour leader has spent the last two days campaigning in Scotland ahead of the by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West.
It was triggered after the local SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was suspended from parliament for 30 days after speaking in the Commons with COVID symptoms before testing positive, and then travelling by train in September 2020.
Her constituents voted to trigger a by-election, which will take place in the autumn, and she will not be standing.
For Labour, the by-election is a key test to demonstrate that it is making progress in Scotland, as the polls suggest, ahead of a general election expected next year.
Written by: Newsroom