Social Justice

1.6 million children at risk of 'losing their life chances' because of 'cruel' two-child benefit cap

New research from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed the true scale of the impact of the two-child limit on benefits, which MPs are pushing the new Labour government to scrap

three children

Families with three or more children are impacted by the policy. Image: Unsplash

Around 440,000 families across the UK are impacted by the two-child benefit cap, official new figures show, as pressure builds on the new Labour government to scrap the “cruel” policy.

New research from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows that 1.6 million children are denied support because of the two-child limit – which charities claim puts them at risk of “losing their life chances”.

The limit, described as “one of the cruellest welfare policies of the past decade”, means families claiming benefits who have a third or subsequent child after April 2017 receive at least £3,000 less than families whose kids were born sooner.

Prime minister Keir Starmer has resisted calls to scrap the two-child limit, despite Labour’s commitment to tackling child poverty.

Liz Kendall, work and pensions secretary, said: “Too many children are growing up in poverty and this is a stain on our society. 

“We will work to give every child the best start in life by delivering our manifesto commitment to implement an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty. I will hold critical meetings with charities and experts next week to get this urgent work under way.”

The government has faced opposition from MPs as well as charities for their refusal to scrap the two-child limit.

John McDonnell, former Labour shadow chancellor and MP for Hayes and Harlington, has said he plans to table amendments to Rachel Reeves’ first budget, expected in the autumn, to push the government to abolish the policy.

The Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Scottish National Party and independent MPs are also calling on the government to remove the two-child benefit cap.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Children are losing their life chances to the two-child limit now – they can’t wait for the new government to align every star before the policy is scrapped. 

“The prime minister came to office pledging a bold, ambitious child poverty-reduction plan and there’s no way to deliver on that promise without scrapping the two-child limit, and fast. This is not the time for procrastination or prevarication – the futures of 1.6 million children are on the line.”



Almost half (45%) of families said they struggle to pay their rent or mortgage because of the policy, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. A similar proportion (46%) struggle to manage childcare costs. 

One working mother said: “My number one reason for doing anything is my children, yet when I watch them queuing in a food bank with me because I physically can’t provide for them, I feel horrific, it makes you feel like an absolute failure.”

Shockingly, 3,100 women had to declare that they had been the victim of rape in order to gain an exemption to this policy.

Joseph Howes, chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition and chief executive of Buttle UK said: “The two-child limit just has to go. If the aim is to reduce child poverty, there is no way for the new Labour government to keep this policy in place when the evidence shows that the number of children impacted is increasing year on year. 

“Children living in poverty cannot wait any longer – this shameful policy must be scrapped, the time for action is now.”

Around 59% of households impacted are in work, meaning that more than half of all families impacted are working.

More than half (52%) of all households impacted by this policy are single parents, but within the general population just 16% of households are headed by a single parent. The majority of lone parents are women.

Becca Lyon, head of UK child poverty at Save the Children, said: “It is an outrage that 440,000 families are denied vital support because of the unfair two-child limit, a rise of over 30,000 since last year.

“More and more children will suffer every year just because they have siblings, unless the UK government acts now. The cruel two-child benefit cap should be scrapped immediately to prevent families from facing hardship and destitution.”

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