Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders have joined forces to call for a policy limiting benefits to families with more than two children to be scrapped.
The “two-child policy”, introduced a year ago, allows families to claim child tax credits or universal credits only for their first two children unless there are special circumstances.
But religious leaders say the policy will lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.
“The policy is expected to tip an estimated extra 200,000 children into poverty. It also conveys the regrettable message that some children matter less than others, depending on their place in the sibling birth order,” they say in a letter to the Times.
“There are likely to be mothers who will face an invidious choice between poverty and terminating an unplanned pregnancy.”
The letter was signed by 60 Church of England bishops – including Sarah Mullally, the new bishop of London and number three in the church – the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain.
Last year, the Child Poverty Action Group launched a legal challenge to the policy, saying it was in breach of human rights and discriminatory.
It estimated that more than 250,000 children would be pushed into poverty as a result of the measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty.
Jewish, Muslim and Catholic organisations have said the policy would disproportionately affect families in their faith groups, some of whom have large numbers of children.
In 2015, a coalition of faith organisations said the proposals were “fundamentally anti-family”. “Anything which sends the implicit message that a child is unwanted, unvalued or superfluous should be strongly resisted,” a briefing from the Church of England, Church of Scotland, the Catholic Caritas Social Action Network, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, the United Reform Church, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Orthodox Jewish Interlink Foundation, said.
The Department for Work and Pensions has said the policy will be implemented compassionately, with exceptions and safeguards. However, it insisted that people on benefits should have to “make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work”.
Exceptions are made to the policy for multiple births, adoption from local authority care, kinship care and children likely to have been conceived as a result of rape or a coercive or controlling relationship.
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