1.3 million children affected by two-child limit

DWP figures show 1.3 milllion children are affected by the two-child limit on benefits.

Child hold woman's hand at a table. She has her head in her hands and there is an open purse on the table with just a few pence spilling out of it.


The number of children in the UK who are affected by the two-child limit in social security has reached 1.3 million – one in 12 children, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The DWP says the number has increased since the first statistics were published in 2018, as more children have been born into families with two existing children. Under the two-child rule families who have more than two children on or after 6 April 2017 do not receive the child element of Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit for additional children. There are some exceptions, for instance, for multiple births. The 1.3 million figure includes all children in a family where the limit has been applied.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Benefit Changes and Larger Families project warn that as living costs surge, the policy’s damaging impact on children will intensify – putting the futures of one in 12 children on the line.

The CPAG says the first instalment of the £650 cost-of-living  emergency payment – which families receive from today – “will bring limited comfort to those affected by the two-child limit since the flat-rate payment takes no account of children in a household and therefore, like the limit, bears no relation to  families’ needs”.

A Briefing published today by the Benefit Changes and Larger Families project reports parents’ experiences of both the two-child limit and the benefit cap.

One mother affected by the limit told researchers that she can’t afford new shoes for her one year old:  “[One year old daughter] was in size four shoes and she had her feet measured the other day and she’s a six, so for the last two months she’s been wearing shoes that are two sizes too small, but I couldn’t do anything about it…it’s not even Clarks shoes she’s getting, it’s….. cheap and cheerful.”

Another parent was unable to replace her child’s broken bed: “The end of the bed it just broke. So we tried to fix it for the time being because we couldn’t buy a bed immediately, so we tried to see… if we can put something on it, like a piece of wood, we’ll see if it stays the same but it didn’t, so we knew it were ready to go out to the tip. But it took a few weeks and… it’s not good for their health because the way they’re sleeping is not right, it’s not good. I can’t explain it; it’s a bit like when you’re going down a slide, that’s how you sleep.”

The cost of living crisis has left some parents fearful of whether they will cope with ongoing price rises.  One parent subject to the two-child limit said: “If anything I think it’s about to get worse…things are going up high, …. so, you know, that is worrying. … I don’t think there is any hope at the moment.”

The two-child limit restricts child allowances in universal credit and tax credits worth £2,935 per year to the first two children in a family unless the children were born before 6th April 2017 when the policy came into force. The DWP statistics show the policy affects 360,000 families, 59% of them are working families.

The CPAG says two-child limit is one of the biggest drivers of rising child poverty. By 2026/27, over 50 per cent of children in families with more than two children are forecast to be in poverty.

Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “The two child- limit is piling on the pain for affected families.  It forces families to survive on less than they need,  pushes them deeper and deeper into poverty as costs rise  – and today’s emergency cost-of-living payment does nowhere near enough to pull them back.  One in 12 children are taking the consequences of this brutal policy – their health, development and well-being are being jeopardised.  If every child matters– not just some – the policy must be abolished.”

Meanwhile,  a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that benefit cuts pushed up relative child poverty in the years running up to the pandemic, measured as living in a household with incomes below 60% of median income. It says relative child poverty increased from 27% in 2013 to 31% in 2019, its highest level since 2007, with the incomes of poorer families with children falling further behind average incomes.

The report says increases in relative child poverty have been substantially larger for families with three or more children, with their relative poverty rate rising from 34% to 47% from 2013, higher than the 43% rate seen in 2007. The IFS says these families have seen larger than average cuts to benefits due to policies such as the benefit cap and the “two-child limit”.

Nevertheless, the report also found that, based on a survey of families, the share of children in material deprivation fell by a quarter, from 24% in 2013 to 18% in 2019. It says this could be the result of a fall in the relative prices of essential goods, particularly gas and warns this could be reversed as a result of rising prices.

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