NEW OFFICIAL FIGURES show the number of families affected by the two-child limit in universal credit and tax credits jumped by 67,000 in the year to April 20201 to reach 318,000.

1.1 million children are now affected by the policy, up from 900,000 in April 2020. The new figures also show that in the year to April 2021, 1,330 exemptions from the policy were granted on the grounds of conception as a result of non-consensual sex.

Separately, information supplied by the Department of Health and Social Care in response to Freedom of Information requests shows that the number of abortions among women with two or more previous children has risen by 24 per cent since 2016, the year before the policy was introduced. This is more than three times the rate of increase among women with one or no previous children (seven per cent).

The two-child policy restricts child allowances in universal credit and tax credits (worth £237.08 per month) to the first two children in a family, unless the children were born before April 2017, when the policy was introduced.

The number of households claiming universal credit almost doubled in the year to February 2021, reaching 5 million.

The total number of families affected by the policy since it came into effect in 2017, is 318,000. Most (56 per cent) are working, despite Covid-driven job losses. Most (60 per cent) affected families have three children.

Commenting on the statistics, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “Universal credit should be a port in the storm for families but the two-child policy means many are denied the support they need for children just when they need it most. The pandemic has shown us how quickly circumstances can change but this policy limits the life chances of kids by reducing them from a person to a number. The only way to prevent more children from being damaged by poverty is for the Government to end the two-child policy.”

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said: “The two-child limit is now the main driver of rising child poverty and is pushing many more children even deeper into poverty. Every day, we hear stories from families affected by this policy, who cannot afford to buy clothes or other basic items for their children. We don’t think it’s right that these families are not getting the support they need when parents lose their jobs or their relationship breaks down, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Our government should lift the two-child limit and help every parent to give their children the best start in life.”

The two-child limit exclusively affects families already at a higher risk of poverty. Latest DWP annual poverty statistics, published in March, show that while the UK child poverty rate is 31 per cent, 47 per cent of children in families with three or more children are in poverty, up from 43 per cent the year before and 36 per cent a decade earlier.

As well as driving an increase in the number of children in poverty, the policy increases the depth of poverty for large numbers of children. Revoking the policy would lift 200,000 children out of poverty and lessen the depth of poverty for another 600,000 children at a cost of £1 billion.

Parents surveyed by CPAG and the Church of England between September 2020 and June 2021 said: “I’m in so much debt. I get roughly enough for the school run and some shopping but I can’t afford clothes, footwear or gas and electric. I’m meant to pay rent –  I can’t because I never have anything left. I don’t smoke, I never drink, I can’t pay the water bill and I always get cut off on my mobile, I just can’t afford it. My children are in old clothes and get teased at school and I can’t even buy them any new stuff.” (Single parent to three children, South East, in part-time work)

“I can’t even afford to buy my baby the basics like a pram, bottles… I didn’t realise how much this would impact me, and after splitting with my partner it’s caused a massive impact. My kids are picking up on how stressed and depressed I am that I can’t even afford to be a mummy and take care of them right. I never planned to be single (mum) with children and it’s making my mental health so bad.” (Single parent to three children, South West, not in paid work)

“It’s been very difficult. I’m having to decide on paying bills or feeding my children. Me and my partner are going without food so that we can ensure our children are fed.” (Couple, parents to three children, East of England, in part-time work)

“I was using what I was told was a very reliable method of contraception which sadly failed. Termination is not something I am morally comfortable with so I continued with the pregnancy, however it has left us in financial difficulty as I can no longer work more than a few hours a week. … It is not my child’s fault they exist, nor should [we] be forced to choose between food or heating as a result.” (Couple in full and part time work, four children south east)

Research by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), published in December 2020, found that the two-child limit is a significant factor in women’s decision to end a pregnancy, with 57 per cent of women who were aware of, and likely to be affected by, the policy saying it affected their choice.

* Read: Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit claimants: statistics related to the policy to provide support for a maximum of 2 children, April 2021 here.

* Read CPAG’s short briefing on the statistics and the two-child policy here.

* Read the British Pregnancy Advisory Service research here

* Source: Child Poverty Action Group