Ministers have refused to temporarily scrap the policy – which will leave families claiming because of illness and job losses denied support for any more than two children
Around 60,000 families forced onto Universal Credit by Covid-19 could have essential support restricted by the government’s hated ‘two-child limit’.
Families who have to claim the benefit because of job losses and illness will find they are denied support for more than two children.
Ministers have refused to scrap the policy, even temporarily during the coronavirus crisis.
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey yesterday insisted she has no intention of changing the “fundamental principles or application” of UC and dismissed calls to end the five-week wait for a first payment or to scrap the two-child limit.
The policy restricts child allowances in Universal Credit (UC) and tax credits – which are worth up to £50 per week per child – to the first two children in a family.
It applies to all children born after April 2017, when the policy was introduced.
A new report by the Church of England and Child Poverty Action Group said the virus crisis had exposed the injustice of the policy, which mostly hits working families.
The 60,000 new claimants likely to be affected by the policy according to the research is on top of the estimated 230,000 families and 860,000 children who have already been affected since April 2017.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “As millions of families grapple with the deep financial impacts of COVID-19, the injustice of the two-child limit is being laid bare.
“Sadly, many parents who could comfortably support a third or subsequent child before the pandemic will be shocked to find that as their financial security falls away because of the virus and they are forced to rely on social security, there is no support in universal credit for their third or subsequent child– born in better times – only for his or her older siblings.
“That isn’t right. It is at odds with our shared belief that all children are equally entitled to support.”
She added: “No parent can see into the future with certainty – no parent could have seen COVID-19 coming.
“The two-child limit is arbitrary and very damaging for children. More than any other single policy, it is driving up child poverty in the UK – even before the effects of the pandemic, which will further increase hardship.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds called for the benefit cap to be temporarily suspended, and said the two-child limit should be lifted, adding: “People three years ago could not have been expected to make family choices based on the likelihood of a global pandemic shutting down our economy.
“The Government has suspended sanctions during the crisis but the two-child limit is effectively an 18-year sanction on the third and fourth child in a family and surely it should go too.”
Mr Reynolds said the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit “should not exist at all”.
Ms Coffey replied: “Our older systems, the legacy benefit systems, it’d take, I understand, quite some time – and I’m talking about several months – to get this to change in the process that we have.
“That’s indicative, if I can give an analogy, of when we make changes to benefits that tends to happen about four or five months before the actual changes come through because that is how long it takes our computer systems to work.”
Ms Coffey highlighted other changes which could help people, including mortgage holidays and stopping renters being evicted.
She said: “I am conscious that for the benefit cap we are still talking outside London about an income of potentially £20,000 over the year being given to benefits claimants, or £23,000 in London – I’m conscious that that could be something like a £25,000 to £30,000 take-home salary effectively after you’ve taken into account taxation and similar.
“So I do think it’s not necessary to be changing the benefit cap.”
On the five-week wait, Ms Coffey said: “There’s no intention to change that.”
SNP work and pensions spokesman Neil Gray described the Government’s support schemes as “bureaucratic”, adding: “Millions have been forced on to a still inadequate UC.”
He said Airdrie food bank had reported a 47% increase in demand for its services since the onset of Covid-19, adding: “That should focus minds.”
Ms Coffey said she was “conscious of the increase in food bank usage” as she pointed to the work of ministers in “making sure that we can work with them in order to make sure that food can get to people most vulnerable in society”.
Launching the report, Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham said: “Whilst acknowledging the significant decisions made to improve support through Universal Credit in the wake of the coronavirus, we must highlight that families affected by the two-child limit are among the worst affected by the economic fallout of this pandemic – denied support for their children when they need it most.
“At a time like this, we understand more than ever that life is unpredictable, and that it is important to help one another through difficult times. The Government should lift the two-child limit and protect all children.”