Changes to visa rules in a drive to curb immigration numbers will have a “negative impact” on critical family relationships, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
While the Most Rev Justin Welby said the government was “rightly concerned” with reducing legal migration figures, he warned there would be “a cost to be paid” as a result of some of the restrictions being introduced.
Stressing the importance of families to society, the top Anglican cleric argued the government “must not set a series of hurdles for them to jump over”.
Mr Welby also said the two-child benefit cap was “not a good policy” and the moral case for scrapping it was “beyond any question”.
Under a package of measures unveiled this week, overseas health and care workers will be prevented from bringing their dependants to the UK, while Britons must be earning at least £38,700 if they want to bring foreign family members.
The dramatic increase of the threshold – more than double the previous limit of £18,600 – to above the median income for a full-time employee has sparked criticism.
Net migration hit a record 745,000 in 2022, although it is estimated to have fallen to 672,000 in the year to June 2023.
The move to limit legal arrivals comes as the government seeks to press ahead with its controversial Rwanda asylum plan in a bid to stop small boat crossings.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Welby called on the government to take action to promote the “flourishing” of families.
He said: “This week we hear that many people in this country will be prevented from living together with their spouse, child or children, elderly parents, as a result of a big increase in the minimum income requirement for family visas.
“The government is rightly concerned with bringing down the legal migration figures and I’m not, you’ll be relieved to know, going into the politics of that.
“But there is a cost to be paid in terms of the negative impact this will have on married and family relationships for those who live and work and contribute to our life together, particularly in social care.”
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The archbishop pressed for the application to policy of a “family test”, introduced in 2014 under then prime minister David Cameron, now Lord Cameron, and said it should be on the front of every piece of legislation.
Mr Welby said: “The state is useful to the family, the family is indispensable to the state. A lack of strong families undermines our whole society.
“Government needs families to work. They must not set a series of hurdles for them to jump over.”
He also pointed to estimates by campaigners that ditching the two-child benefit limit “would lift a quarter of a million children out of poverty”.
Mr Welby added: “The moral case is beyond any question, yet the unfair penalty applied to additional children affects their educational outcomes, mental and physical health, their likelihood to require public support from public services later on.
“It is not a good policy.
“Will the government and the opposition, should they become the government at some point, consider removing the two-child limit and addressing other systems and policy choices which keep family in poverty?”
He urged all political parties to “place flourishing families and households as a key objective” within their manifestos at the next general election.
His comments came during the annual debate he leads in the House of Lords, with this year’s topic Love Matters, The Report Of The Archbishops’ Commission On Families and Households.