THE Bishop of Portsmouth has warned changes to child tax credits could split families.
It comes as peers have urged the government to exempt kinship carers – family members who care for others in their family – from new restrictions on child tax credits.
This is clearly not in the children’s best interests, nor in society’s or the chancellor’s best interestRt Rev Christopher Foster
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster paid tribute to the dedication of kinship carers – grandparents, older siblings and other relatives who step in to care for vulnerable children.
But he warned that their ‘generous and good decision’ would be hit by restricting the child element of child tax credit to two children per family under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
The Bishop said there were about 200,000 children being raised by kinship carers across the UK, with more than one in five of such families containing three or more children.
‘The changes proposed in the Bill with the consequent reduced financial support for these families could well stop potential kinship carers from being able take on the care of a sibling group of children or lead to the splitting of a group of three or more siblings,’ he said.
‘This is clearly not in the children’s best interests, nor in society’s or the chancellor’s best interest.’
Exempting the group would reduce savings to the Exchequer by £30 million in 2020-21 but costs to the public purse could outweigh those savings if potential carers were put off by the new rules.
For the opposition, Baroness Sherlock backed the bishop’s call, warning that ministers shouldn’t be putting ‘financial barriers in the way of families willing to take on what are often very vulnerable children’.
She said the financial disincentive also applied to potential adopters and any savings made by the Government would be off-set by increased costs elsewhere in the care system.
Work and pensions minister Lord Freud said the Government recognised the vital role that kinship carers played.
But in committee stage debate on the Bill, he acknowledged that he couldn’t offer much satisfaction to critical peers.
Lord Freud said the changes were aimed at putting welfare funding on a sustainable footing. Currently the benefits system adjusted automatically to family size, while many families supporting themselves solely through work did not see their budgets rise in the same way.
It was ‘fair and proportionate’ to limit additional support provided by the taxpayer through child tax credit to two children.
Labour’s Baroness Hollis of Heigham warned the moves would increase child poverty.
The third and subsequent children of lone parents would suffer particular hardship because of the way changes were structured, the Baroness said.
‘The poverty that comes with additional children is continual poverty. It is long term poverty that most damages families,’ the Labour peer said.
Former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lawson of Blaby said that all governments had to make difficult decisions.
The Tory peer said that family allowance payments had been found to be unpopular by the Labour government of the 1960s because many people saw the benefit as unfair on families that had limited the number of children they had due to financial reasons.