Tom Sefton works as the Social Policy Advisor for the Mission and Public Affairs team of the Church of England. In this blog he shares about the campaign, led by Bishops in the House of Lords, calling on the government to lift the two-child limit welfare policy.
Last April, 60 Anglican Bishops joined with senior leaders from other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim organisations urging the government to reconsider its two-child limit policy. The government’s welfare reforms have commanded headlines over the past few years. But this one, which restricts the level of financial support to families having a third or subsequent child after April 2017 – worth nearly £3,000 a year - has been largely overlooked. Yet this policy represents a radical change in the social security system, breaking the principle of linking entitlement to need.
Ever since this policy was first debated in the House of Lords in 2015, I have worked closely with the Bishop of Durham and with other Bishops to outline our concerns. Christian tradition has always recognised children as a blessing, not a burden - so we felt a strong moral imperative to resist a policy which sends the message that some children are less valued than others.
Two and a half years into the policy, our focus has shifted from the theological to the practical, as we are seeing the devastating impact on families and children. Recently, I co-authored a joint report with the Child Poverty Action Group, setting out the evidence we have collected from families directly affected by the two-child limit.
I have read countless, heart-breaking stories from families, nearly all of whom are struggling to afford the basic essentials: mothers who are having to borrow to pay for nappies and milk for their new-born children, parents who are skipping meals to make sure they can feed their children, and families who are getting into rent arrears and risk losing their home.
Parents also report being unable to pay for older siblings to attend sports clubs and school trips – activities that are part of a happy, healthy childhood. Can you imagine having to tell your children that they can no longer have swimming lessons or go to football club? This is putting a huge stress on these families, and is affecting their mental health and relationships, often to breaking point. One family told us:
‘It has caused so much stress on our family that it is looking like we are headed for divorce. Instead of enjoying the birth of our baby, we have dealt with hardship and having to scrape together for meals…. We had to borrow money for sterilizer bottles, pram, cot, everything you need for a baby. Without the usual income for each child we can’t afford to pay it back. We are at an end in our family life and relationship because of the stress and hardship the limit has caused us.’
Every day, 200 more families are newly affected by this policy, joining the 200,000 families already affected to date. Most of these are low income working families, who rely on tax credits or universal credit to top up their earnings at a stage in their lives when they most need that extra support.
In some of the most deprived areas of the country, a third or more of children will eventually be affected by this policy. Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities are hit particularly hard, due to deeply held religious beliefs and cultural norms that favour larger families.
The government’s rationale for this policy is that it is fair that people receiving benefits face the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely through work. However, we believe that this doesn’t fully take into account the reality and complexity of people’s lives: contraception can fail; relationships can break down; jobs can be lost; and none of us can guarantee that we will not experience ill-health.
Over the weekend, the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee published their report into the policy, which the Church or England, and other representatives on behalf of British faith communities contributed too. The report concluded that the Government must lift the two-child limit and return to providing support for all children through the benefits system.
We believe that every child should have the best start in life. Yet the two-child limit is denying families the support they need when they experience tough times, trapping them in poverty. That is why Bishops, on behalf of the Church of England, are calling on the government to lift the two-child limit and help all children to thrive.
If your organisation – however large or small - would like to join the ‘All Kids Count’ campaign against the two-child limit, please email Tom at: [email protected]
For a copy of our research report, ‘All Kids Count: The impact of the two-child limit after two years’, see: https://cpag.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/report/all-kids-count-impact-two-child-limit-after-two-years