Campaigners have called on the UK Government to review its “damaging” two child limit policy, after new figures revealed that around 71,000 low-income families have been hit by the cap since it came into force on 6 April 2017.
Most of the affected households include at least one working adult, who will each lose up to £2,780 a year and risk being pushed into poverty, say campaigners.
The controversial policy restricts Child Tax Credit and the equivalent child element under Universal Credit to no more than two children per household, with certain exemptions in place for a third or subsequent child.
Families who make a new claim for Universal Credit from 1st February 2019 will only receive the child element for two children per family, even if the children were born before April 2017.
The child element is worth up to £2,780 per year (£232 per month) and was payable to all low-income families before the policy was changed.
Only 2,900 households have been granted an exception from the two child limit: 2,440 of these received an exemption for multiple births, 270 for a child in non-parental care, and 190 for non-consensual conception (i.e rape).
Analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and IPPR last year found that once Universal Credit is fully rolled out, the two child limit is likely to push up to 200,000 additional children into poverty.
CPAG Chief Executive Alison Garnham said: “Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit.
“Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.
“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.
“Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth. Having older siblings should not mean that a child misses out on support.
“Sixty Bishops from the Church of England and senior representatives from other Christian, Jewish and Muslim organisations have said the policy should be reconsidered.
“We again urge Ministers to review the policy in the interests of family life.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These figures are truly shocking. The two-child limit is an attack on low income families, is morally wrong and risks pushing children into poverty.
“It cannot be right that the Government is making children a target for austerity, treating one child as if they matter less than another.
“Labour will make tackling child poverty the priority it should be once again.”
A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.
“We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.”