Two-child benefits cap leaving parents unable to afford basic essentials

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As new research reveals the struggle families affected by the two-child limit are facing, a coalition of organisations has launched a campaign calling for the policy to be abolished.

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More than 80 per cent of parents said the two-child policy has affected their ability to buy food

The first detailed research on the impact of the two-child limit in tax credits and universal credit by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England, reveals families affected by the two-child benefit cap are being forced to cut back on fresh food, are unable to cover essential utility bills, and are accruing debt.

The policy, which mostly affects working families, restricts the child element in universal credit and tax credits, worth £2,780 per year, to the first two children. Third or subsequent children born before it came into effect in April 2017 are exempt.

The report, ‘All Kids Countthe impact of the two-child limit after two years, draws upon a survey of more than 430 families affected by the policy and 16 in-depth follow-up interviews. Women’s Aid and the Refugee Council provided additional findings from interviews with survivors of domestic abuse and refugees.

The findings reveal:

  • 95 per cent of families have had to cut back on essentials because of the policy, including inhalers and gas and electric.
  • 88 per cent said the policy has affected their ability to pay for food, with some relying on frozen foods and parents not eating during the day to feed their children.
  • Parental stress and worry about money is leading to family conflict.
  • Women with two children or more who experience an unplanned pregnancy, often because contraception has failed, feel obliged to consider a termination.

Interviews conducted by Women’s Aid and Refuge suggest the two-child limit risks making it harder for women experiencing domestic abuse to leave their abuser. If they do manage to leave, it increases the hardship they and their children face.

Survivors of domestic abuse also revealed the traumatic and unworkable nature of the ‘non-consensual exception’ to the two-child limit. Women who have conceived a third or subsequent child as a result of non-consensual sex and want to claim exemption from the policy, need to complete an application form which must be corroborated by a third-party professional.

The research also includes new analysis by the Institute for Public Policy and Research (IPPR), which projects that one million children who already live in poverty will be pushed further below the poverty line by the time universal credit is fully rolled out in 2023/24 as a result of the two-child policy.

It also reveals the for most affected families, it would be impossible to make up the loss of the child element of tax credits or universal credit by working more hours.

The research has been published as more than 50 organisations, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the Children’s Society and Trussell Trust, launch a campaign to abolish the two-child limit.

Parent’s comments

‘It [the policy] has caused so much stress on our family that it is looking like we are headed for divorce. Instead of enjoying the birth of our baby, we have dealt with hardship and having to scrape together for meals. Borrowing money from family for milk and nappies…We had to borrow money for steriliser bottles, pram, cot, everything you need for a baby… We are at an end in our family life and relationship because of the stress and hardship the limit has caused for us.’

Another reported, ‘I couldn’t afford inhalers this week because I’m more concerned about my children having food. Just praying I can make my inhalers last before I run out’.

Paula (not her real name) a single mum of three, whose youngest son has a health condition requiring a special diet, said, I didn’t have any credit cards this time last year. I’ve got two now and they’re maxed out… [I’m using them to] cover daily things and about £30 a week just to pay for his special milk and bread. I’m in a good bit of debt now, it’s not possible to make it work at the end of the month.'

Sector response

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said, ‘Here in the UK, we believe that every child should have the best start in life. This means access to free health care, a good education, and a childhood free from poverty. We wouldn’t turn away a sick child from our hospitals or stop them going to school and yet the two-child limit denies families the support they need from our social security system when they experience tough times, trapping kids in poverty.

‘We need to help children thrive, by supporting parents to raise happy, healthy children – especially during the first years of a child’s life, when foundations are laid for their future development. It’s right to support families when they need it most. Our Government should lift the two-child limit and help all children to thrive.’

The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said, ‘We believe that children are a blessing, not a burden – and that a third or fourth child is no less precious than the first or second. The Government’s two-child limit goes against this fundamental principle and is pushing many families and children into poverty. It is simply not right that some children get support and others don’t. The two-child limit must be lifted as part of a concerted effort to reverse the rise in child poverty.’

Government comment

A Government spokesperson said, 'This policy helps to ensure fairness by asking parents receiving benefits to face the same financial choices as those in work. Safeguards are in place and we’ve made changes this year to make the policy fairer.

'Tackling poverty remains a priority - we’re spending £95 billion a year on welfare and providing free school meals to more than a million children. We’re supporting families to improve their lives through employment and latest figures show there are 667,000 fewer children living in workless households since 2010.'

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