Five years ago today, the two-child limit became part of our social security system. Since then, a child born into a family that already has two children has been ineligible for the child allowances in universal credit and tax credits, with very limited exceptions. The consequences of the policy continue to be devastating for the estimated 400,000 affected families and 1.4 million children.
Parents affected by the policy who responded to a survey in the last year describe having to go without essentials like food, heating, toilet paper and shampoo. They also report having to cancel their children’s sports and extra-curricular activities like school trips. It’s clear from the 2,500-plus survey responses so far – the largest survey of its kind ever conducted – that parents do their best to shield their children but the impact is often unavoidable. Not being able to provide for their children and seeing the effect this has on their wellbeing takes a heavy toll on parent’s mental health too.
The government says parents receiving social security should face the same financial considerations when planning their family as those supporting themselves solely through work. But what about families who had a third child during prosperous times only to hit unforeseen financial difficulty – job loss, bereavement or another of life’s hurdles? And what about children who are happy ‘accidents’, unplanned yet loved all the same? In reality, no one can fully guarantee their financial security for the first 18 years of their child’s life. The majority of families subject to the two-child limit are in work, and many non-working parents aren’t expected to because they have young children to look after.
The government appears to have no answers for these inconsistencies in its logic – and children in larger families are suffering the consequences.
With living costs now rising at the fastest rate in over 30 years and energy bills soaring, we can only expect these families’ circumstances to deteriorate further. Many simply have nothing left to cut back, and every additional pound spent on energy can mean a pound less on other essentials.
Parents are all too aware of the consequences of these impossible decisions for their child’s wellbeing today and their development for the future. As one survey respondent put it: “I feel like [I] fail my children. I want them to have all of the opportunities possible to become successful in their lives but it feels that in order to do this you need money.”
Six months ago, the chancellor said: “I passionately believe that we have a duty to give young families and their children the best possible start in life”. The two-child limit is incompatible with the fulfilment of that duty. The policy must be lifted to allow all children to thrive.