The government’s two-child limit on benefits is having a devastating impact on family life as it pushes millions of children deeper into poverty, according to the first detailed study of the benefit cut. The limit, introduced in April 2017, restricts the child element in universal credit and tax credits worth £2,780 per child per year to the first two children. The government has championed the policy, which will cut the benefits bill by £1bn a year by 2021, as an incentive for people on benefits to work.
Nearly all families affected by the limit reported cutting back on essentials such as food, medication, heating and clothing as a result of the policy, which makes them miss out on at least £53 a week in benefits support.
The limit will push an additional 300,000 children into poverty by 2024, while 1 million children already below the breadline will be pushed into deeper hardship, the report says. To date an estimated 160,000 families and 600,000 children have been affected, and this could rise to 1.8 million young people over the next five years.
Many parents reported stress and strained family relationships, as well as shame and guilt at being unable to provide for their children. Official figures show most families affected are already in work, while the study found those affected felt strongly that the two-child limit unfairly punished hard-working low income families at a time – the birth of a child – when they most needed support.
One mother told researchers: “The safety net doesn’t exist any more for my family … You feel really distressed that you have turned to the welfare state and that there is nothing available for you and now I must turn to charity. What am I paying taxes for?”
Several women said they had considered terminations because of fears over the impact on family finances.
Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, which published the report along with the Church of England, called for the two-child limit to be abolished. “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,” she said.
Nearly three in five (59%) families affected are already in work, while analysis for the report showed it was impossible for most affected families to make up the loss through extra hours.
“The overriding picture emerging from both the survey and interview findings is that families affected by the two-child limit are facing severe and ongoing financial difficulty, which cannot be overcome through careful budgeting or just ‘tightening their belts’, but instead leads to real deprivation,” the report says.
The policy disproportionately affects the most deprived areas. In two parliamentary constituencies – Bradford West and Birmingham Hodge Hill – more than 50% of children could potentially be affected, while in a further 37 constituencies the proportion is more than a third.