Michelle Ballantyne caused outrage when she said the poor "can't have as many children as they like"
A Tory MSP has been accused of “Victorian moralising” after saying people on benefits should stop having children.
Michelle Ballantyne caused outrage when she said the poor "can't have as many children as they like" during a debate about inequality in the Scottish Parliament.
Talking about the controversial two-child cap on child tax credits, which has been roundly condemned by charities and anti-poverty campaigners, she said: “The two-child limit is about fairness. It is fair that people on benefit cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don't claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.”
She also defended the Universal Credit system, which rolls six benefits into one, but which has been accused of plunging people into misery and destitution due to its botched roll-out.
Ballantyne, a South of Scotland list MSP, said: “Universal Credit may have its flaws, but the thinking behind the system is sound."
Her comments provoked anger in the chamber, with Labour and the SNP rounding on her.
Labour leader Richard Leonard said her stance was “nasty and archaic”, while SNP MSP Tom Arthur said: "In my two and half years in this parliament, the contribution from Michelle Ballantyne was one of the most disgraceful speeches I have ever heard. Six minutes of pompous Victorian moralising that would have been better suited to the pages of a Dickens novel.
"And to suggest that poverty should be a barrier to a family, that people who are poor are not entitled to any more than two children - what an absolutely disgraceful position."
They were backed by anti-poverty charities.
Neil Cowan of the Poverty Alliance told TFN: “In a society that believes in justice and compassion, it is simply not right that one in four children in Scotland are living in poverty. Policies like the two-child limit – which remove support from families who need it most – serve only to tighten the grip of this poverty and damage the lives and life chances of children and their families.
“Yesterday’s debate highlighted the challenges we face in tackling poverty in Scotland, but also shone a light on what we can do to solve poverty. This includes boosting incomes through ending policies like the two-child limit – as well as through the real Living Wage - but also reducing costs and challenging stigmatising attitudes.”
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, added: “There should be no doubt that the two child limit is a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Our analysis last year found that across the UK 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by a policy which breaks all links between family need and financial support.
“These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year - a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.
“Parents don’t choose to lose their jobs, have their hours cut or face the challenges of disability or ill health. The idea that children in larger families facing such challenges will now receive less support can’t possibly be fair.”
Marion Davis, head of policy at One Parent Families Scotland, said the two-child policy punished children “just for being born”.
She said: “The aim of the two-child policy seems to be to restrict the number of children that people on low income can have and should to be understood in this context.
“The two-child policy fails to consider what happens when people see their financial situation change. A parent of two or more children might suddenly find themselves separated, unemployed or in ill-health. It discriminates against a number of different groups for example, children with multiple siblings, large families and those with a religious or moral objection to the use of birth control.
“The argument that the two-child limit means that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work is flawed. The reality is, 70% of those claiming tax credits are already working, severely undermining such a fairness objective.
“Many families will be bigger than the state-sanctioned size. As austerity bites and the safety net is removed, children will be punished just because they have been born. This is not something that OPFS thinks is acceptable.”