Reports & Briefings

All Kids Count: The impact of the two-child limit after two years

26 Jun 2019

The two-child limit was part of a package of changes to benefits announced in 2015, aimed at reducing spending on working-age families. From 6 April 2017, low-income families having a third or subsequent child lost their entitlement to additional support through child tax credit and universal credit, worth £2,780 per child per year.

This joint report by Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England presents detailed evidence on the impact of the two-child limit after two years. It is based on a survey of more than 430 families and in-depth interviews with 16 families directly affected by this policy, as well as additional evidence from Women’s Aid, the Refugee Council, Turn2us, and the Interlink Foundation, who work with groups and communities where the two-child limit has particular impacts.

Key findings:

  • 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. 

It is clear that the two-child limit is having a devastating effect on parents and children up and down the country. We would never turn a third child away from school or hospital, yet this policy turns children away at a time when they and their families most need support and leaves them to grow up in hardship.

We know that this harms children’s well-being today and can have lifelong consequences. There can be no justification for this, and the arguments advanced for the policy fall away as soon as we listen to the testimony of people who are affected: ordinary people raising their children while working hard in jobs that do not pay high wages, struggling with health conditions or being hit by unexpected redundancies or the breakdown of relationships.

In our society, we believe that every child should have the best start in life. Yet the two-child limit denies families the support they need from our social security system when they experience tough times, trapping children in poverty. It is right to support families when they need it most. Our government should lift the two-child limit and help all children to thrive.