This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

One of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard in the Scottish Parliament was by Kezia Dugdale in 2017 when MSPs were debating the UK Government welfare reforms that would bring in the two-child limit and the rape clause.

The chamber listened in silence as the then Labour leader read out the testimony of a mother whose fourth child was the result of what the Department for Work and Pensions now refers to as “non-consensual conception”.

Dugdale said the woman never wanted her child to know the truth, to avoid "the permanent and damaging stigma attached to rape".

That meant she would never risk telling others in case their kid somehow found out, including the DWP.

The woman relied on tax credits to help. They were, she said, “the hand up I needed when I was at my most vulnerable to allow me to re-stabilise my family”.

Referring to the paperwork necessary to claim the rape clause exemption, the woman wrote: “There is no way I could complete that awful form of shame, no matter what the consequences.

"Looking back, that really could have been the thing that tipped me completely over the edge; the difference between surviving to tell the tale and not."

That is the reality of the Tory rape clause, Dugdale said. “That is the burden that this Tory Government wants to put on victims of rape because it does not want to pay for more than two children in a poor family.

“It is an absolutely sickening state of affairs, but it is not the author of that letter or any other rape victim who should feel shame; it is those on the Tory benches here and in Westminster who refuse to act.”

And yet six years later, when Keir Starmer is asked about the two-child limit, when he is asked if Labour will scrap it, he unequivocally says no.

You can understand why they are quite so many people in Scottish Labour and in the Commons who are furious with the boss.

Anas Sarwar made a lame attempt at defending the u-turn in a media round on Monday morning. 

He said the Holyrood party were of course still opposed to the limit and the rape clause, but “what we recognise is an incoming Labour government will inherit economic carnage and that means we will not be able to do everything we want, and we won't be able to do everything as fast as we want.”

The suggestion implicit here is that Labour will scrap the limit when the time is right, when the economy is in a better place, when they can put their hands on the estimated £1.5bn it will cost to ditch.

But it’s also worth noting that’s not what Sir Keir said.

He didn’t say, “We’re not changing anything in the short term, but this policy is abhorrent”.

He didn’t say, “Clearly this is horrific and I stood on a platform when I ran for the leadership of scrapping this and I promise we’ll look at this at some point in the future.”

He said: “We're not changing that.”

There’s not much ambiguity there.

As it happens, the Nuffield Foundation published a paper on welfare reform and larger families.

Three years in the making, the report was damning.

The benefit cap, which puts a ceiling on the amount a household can receive in benefits if they have no, or low, earnings, and the two child limit, which prevents families from receiving additional means-tested support for their third or subsequent children, are "causing extreme hardship to affected families".

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The two policies “disproportionately affect households with higher living costs, particularly households living in private rented properties and those with larger families, which in turn means they disproportionately affect minority ethnic households”.

Despite their intentions, the “policies disproportionally affect households that are less able to increase their income through employment, particularly single parent households and families with younger children”  

Nuffield says that their research “found no evidence that either policy meets its behavioural aims and, in some cases, has had the opposite effect.”

The researchers said that many of the families they interviewed for the report “did not know that the two-child limit existed until after their child was born and, in some cases, conception was not a choice, but was the result of failed contraception or an abusive relationship.”

In other cases, the family was not receiving benefits when the affected child was born, and parents only found out about the restriction when their circumstances later changed as a result of a relationship breakdown or job loss.

Crucially, as Dugdale warned in that speech in 2017, they found that “the majority of the participants eligible” for the non-consensual conception “were not receiving it.”

The Herald:

There was, the researchers said, an “unassailable case for the need to end both the two-child limit and the benefit cap, and to centre support for families with children in a much more positive light within the social security system”.

It’s worth pointing out here that while a number of Labour politicians and supporters are upset at the leadership’s position, it’s not unpopular with the country.

A YouGov poll from last week suggested 60% of Britons want to keep the cap in place, as do Labour voters by 47% to 35%

Starmer is not losing votes here. And there’s every chance they might if he changed his mind.

But can Labour really go into the next election without a commitment to scrap what charities, including Barnados and the Child Poverty Action Group, have described as the "biggest driver of rising child poverty in the UK today?"

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