Coronavirus: Charities call on Government to lift the two-child universal credit limit
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Thousands of families forced to claim universal credit because of the Covid-19 pandemic will fall into deeper hardship as a result of the controversial 'two-child policy', a new report highlights.
The Church of England and Child Poverty Action Group are calling on the Government to suspend the policy, which was introduced in April 2017 and restricts child allowances in universal credit (UC) and tax credits worth up to £50 per week per child, to the first two children in a family.
The report, No one knows what the future can hold, launched by the charities today (5 May), estimates that around 60,000 families forced to claim universal credit since mid-March because of COVID-19 will discover that they will not get the support their family needs. This is on top of an estimated 230,000 families that have already been affected by the two-child limit up until April.
A survey of 974 families affected by the policy, which was carried out by the charities between February 2019 and April 2020, reveals that families are going without basics, children's well-being and development is compromised, and family stability, relationships and mental health have been jeopardised.
The report highlights the ‘injustice of the policy’ which mostly affects working families - 59 percent of all survey respondents - since no parent could have planned their family size with foresight of the pandemic.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said that many parents who could comfortably support a third or subsequent child before the pandemic will be shocked to find that their financial security ‘falls away’ because of the virus, as they are forced to rely on social security, but find that there is no support in universal credit for their third or subsequent child.
She added, ‘The Government has been quick to respond so far but further steps are needed and this policy should be suspended immediately to prevent more families – many of whom never expected to claim social security – from falling into real hardship.’
According to the findings, 95 percent of respondents said that the policy had affected their ability to pay for basic living costs, such as food and clothing (87 percent), gas or electric (71 percent), rent or mortgage (48 percent), travel costs (38 percent) or childcare (30 percent).
It follows last week’s analysis from children’s charity Action for Children, which found that 8.5 million children are living in families with less than a month’s savings to fall back on, with parents that have lost their jobs or are now unable to work because of coronavirus facing financial hardship.
Child Poverty Action Group's research shows that 300,000 more children will be pushed into poverty by 2023/24, as a direct result of the two-child limit and a further one million children, who are already living in poverty, will be pushed even deeper into poverty.
Many of the families affected had come up against unexpected life events – including job losses.A couple from the North East with four children, said, ‘Everything was okay up until the Covid-19. We had our own business and were paying to look after our own family with no benefits. Now our income is zero, so it is hard to manage with four kids. Just so gutted that coronavirus has happened.’
A single mum of four from the North West said, ‘Now lost my job and don't have my own money so had to go on [universal credit]. Now being punished for being a mother who has always worked who is going through a hard time, being made to choose between food or school shoes, food or electric, pack lunches for school or gas, nappies or sanitary products.’
Children who were born as a result of non-consensual conception or within an abusive relationship are meant to be exempt from the two-child limit. But the survey strongly suggests that the exception is not working as intended, with a number of worrying responses from survivors of domestic abuse.
A single, working mum of three children, who lives in the South East, said, ‘I never thought I'd be in the position [of claiming benefits] when I had a third child. The two-child limit feels like it is punishment for leaving an abusive marriage.’
The findings also show the impact on children's well-being and development.
Working parents of five children, from the South West, said, ‘My toddler started walking and we can't even afford to get him shoes, so we have to stay indoors all the time. The kids have to refuse all birthday parties as we can't afford to take them or even buy a card for the child who invited them. My eldest child used to exceed and thrive in education and was part of the gifted and able programs, but he has lost his enthusiasm. They are constantly worried we are losing our home and we are too, of course.’
- The report, No one knows what the future can hold: the impact of the two-child limit after three years, is here