The controversial two-child benefit limit is unduly influencing women’s decisions on whether to continue with a pregnancy or abort the unborn child, according to a shocking new report.
The two-child limit was introduced by the Tory-led coalition government to deter families from having more children than they can afford to support, but the policy has faced widespread criticism and has been blamed for plunging vulnerable children into poverty.
The policy was first introduced in April 2017, and severely restricts the amount of financial support for low income families with three or more children. This additional support is worth nearly £2,900 per child per year
Around 57% of pregnant women who took part in a study from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) who were aware of the two-child limit said it had influenced their decision to terminate a pregnancy.
According to BPAS, women described feeling significant regret and sadness because they felt unable to continue what was a wanted pregnancy due to the policy.
Women also reported difficulties accessing contraception during the Covid pandemic, leading to unplanned – but not necessarily unwanted – pregnancies.
BPAS says the two-child limit policy is based on the false assumption that pregnancies and family finances can be perfectly planned, when in reality this is rarely the case, and cannot be justified in the current pandemic and should be lifted.
One woman who had a termination said: “If there was no two-child limit I would have kept the baby, but I couldn’t afford to feed and clothe it.
“I’ve really struggled to come to terms with [my decision].”
Another woman said: “I did something I never imagined I would ever do… But at the back of my mind all I kept thinking is how would I have managed financially. I had to do this.”
Another said: “The two-child cap forces people into a corner of knowing they can’t provide versus abortion.
“Although I understand that it is not the government’s responsibility to be financially responsible for parents having children, I also felt like thanks to that rule I was forced to make this decision.”
Katherine O’Brien, Associate Director of Campaigns at BPAS, who led the research, said: “As an organisation committed to reproductive choice, at BPAS we advocate for policies and practices that enable women to make their own decisions around preventing, ending, conceiving, or continuing a pregnancy.
“Our research provides clear evidence that the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic together with the two-child limit is a significant factor in many women’s decision to end a pregnancy.
“Given the scale of predicted job losses and long-term economic forecasts, we anticipate that the numbers of women in this incredibly difficult position will only increase.”
She continued: “The two-child limit policy assumes that couples are able to use contraception to neatly plan pregnancies, and that they are also able to plan their financial circumstances for the 18 years following the birth of their child. Even prior to the pandemic, this was far from the case.
“However, the COVID-19 crisis means that more families will face unforeseeable and sudden financial hardship. It is harder for parents to plan their financial future, and it is also harder to access contraception to prevent pregnancy.”
She added: “When the policy was introduced in 2017, no-one could have predicted the impact it would be having on families in 2020.
“As ministers repeatedly state, these are truly unprecedented times that require unprecedented measures.
“If the government does not want to see more women feeling forced into a corner between financial hardship or ending an otherwise wanted pregnancy, they must revoke the two-child limit as a matter of urgency.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “We know this is an uncertain time for families which is why we have taken unprecedented steps to support incomes and help with living costs.
“The support available through the welfare safety net reflects the fact that the majority of households in Britain (85%) have two or fewer children.”