At the beginning of February this year, the UK government introduced a cut on benefits for families with more than two children. Families who have more than two children, born after April 2017 will not be able to claim benefits for them. In June the Child Poverty Action Group, (CPAG), Church of England, Women's Aid, Turn2Us and the Refugee Council published a new report looking at the impact of the two-child limit. On 23 October, the Work and Pensions Committee heard fresh calls from representatives of the Church of England, Jewish organisations and the Muslim Council of Britain, to lift the cap.
The report states that: an estimated 160,000 families have already been affected by the two-child limit to date; the majority are working families and the majority have just three children. More than 800,000 families and three million children could eventually be affected by it, while a third of all children will be affected in many constituencies across the country.
As a result of this policy, 300,000 children will be pushed into poverty and one million children, already in poverty, will be pushed even deeper into poverty by 2023/24. By then, over half of children in families with three or more children are expected to be in poverty.
95 per cent of survey respondents said that the two-child limit had affected their ability to pay for basic living costs, including 88 per cent who said it had affected their ability to pay for food and clothing. Families are facing severe and ongoing financial difficulty and being forced into debt just to cover basic living costs each month. Parents are being placed under huge levels of stress, which is negatively affecting their mental health and relationships, in some cases to breaking point.
Many parents told us they can no longer afford to pay for their children to take part in afterschool clubs, sport and school trips, affecting their children's wellbeing; they feel guilt and shame at being unable to maintain a 'normal' family life for their children.
The families we interviewed were unable to compensate for the reduction in support by working longer hours. They believe that they have been unfairly penalised despite working hard, and feel let down that support is not there when they need it. Most cannot see a way out of their situation.
Awareness and understanding of the two-child limit are low. Only half of those affected by the policy said they knew about it before having their youngest child.
Victims of domestic abuse are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of the two-child limit and the requirement for disclosure of non-consensual conception to get an exception provides no solution. The policy can make it more difficult to leave an abusive relationship and put them at increased risk of violence.
Refugees affected by the two-child limit are likely to have arrived in the UK with next to nothing, and the two-child limit hinders their ability to rebuild their lives after traumatic experiences.
Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities are also disproportionately affected by the two-child limit, due to strong cultural norms and deeply held religious beliefs that favour larger families."
Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) said: "While it is clear that many families will be affected in the future, children affected by the policy are currently below the minimum age for most of the professional services offered by charities in the Caritas network.
In addition, a family seeking support may not specifically indicate that this policy is the cause of their hardship - they are more likely to talk about other factors such as housing difficulties, debt and family breakdown."
CSAN is calling on its member organisations to share evidence and encourage parishioners who have been affected, to raise this issue with their local MP, and call for the cap to be lifted.
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