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“shows that it will not work. Some parts of the United States have imposed similar child limits. For most communities, there was no effect on birth rate and for some it actually increased the birth rate. The best explanation is that women who are financially weakened are less able to say no to partn…”
11th January 2019
Churches, faith groups and charities are agreed that the two child rule is a terrible policy. It is wrong in principle and its many bad consequences will include pushing around 200,000 children into poverty.
Today’s announcement is welcome because, in the short term, 15,000 families will not have their family’s support cut because of the rule. In the long term however the policy which focuses cuts on the country’s poorest children remains unchanged.
What is the Two–Child rule?
Universal Credit will support only two-children per family and no more. There are exceptions including for families with twins (or other multiples) or if the child was conceived through rape. The latter is particularly distressing as in order to receive support for her child, a woman must disclose deeply personal and distressing information which is then held on file by the Department for Work and Pensions for long periods.
The policy aims to change the behaviour of low-income families by “Encouraging parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child”.1 Government has been very careful not to say that the intention of the policy is to encourage society’s poorest people to have fewer children – although it is hard to draw any other conclusion.
What has changed?
Despite the fact that the two-child rule is intended to affect people’s decision to have children, before today it was to apply to children conceived years before the policy was ever announced. This was clearly unfair and contrary to the Government’s stated aims. Today’s announcement undoes that particular injustice and means only children born after the policy came into force will be affected.
The result is that children born before April 2017 are permanently exempted from the rule. Amber Rudd has reiterated her intention to press on with the rule for children born after that date. That means the full impact of the policy has been delayed but not altered.
The wrong premise
The policy design assumes that families always know how many children they will conceive, but for a lot of reasons that is not always the case. It is also not possible to know if your family will remain financially secure for the entire 18+ years over which a new baby will remain financially dependent.
Parents who “reflect carefully”, just as the Government wishes, sometimes hit hard times and can lose their job, their health or even their life. The benefit system was designed to ensure that all families were able to meet their basic needs when financial pressures strike. If you have more than two children, this policy casts you and your children adrift.
Moreover, large families are often created not by births but when two single-parent families join together to become one family. This can be a hugely positive step for both parents and children but this policy places huge financial obstacles in their way.
If the aim is to reduce the birth rate on low-income families, the best evidence available [ref] shows that it will not work. Some parts of the United States have imposed similar child limits. For most communities, there was no effect on birth rate and for some it actually increased the birth rate. The best explanation is that women who are financially weakened are less able to say no to partners who want more children.
The wrong outcomes
Families with more than three children already experience much higher-than-average levels of poverty. The two-child rule removes large amounts of money – around £3,000 per additional child – from families that are already struggling. The result is a large cut focused on the poorest children – meaning that already-impoverished lives are made more difficult and 200,000 more children are pushed into poverty.
Universal Credit combines in-work benefits with sickness and other out-of-work benefits. As a result, the two-child policy hits those families where the parents are already earning as well as families where adults simply cannot work.
We also know that the policy puts a financial pressure on low-income families to terminate pregnancies. It is not yet clear to what extent women are responding to that pressure (if at all). Deeply troubling reports from the charity Refuge state that abusive partners have tried to coerce women to terminate pregnancies and, in some truly awful instances, used violence to try to trigger miscarriage.
The wrong principles
The benefit system should provide a solid foundation so that families can meet their basic needs. The two–child rule breaks that principle and says that in order to encourage “reflection” (and presumably reduce the numbers of children being born into in low-income families), we should accept that the basic needs of many families will not be met.
Those who accept the 2-child rule must accept that the policy deliberately denies some children even the basic level of support offered by the benefit system. The result of that choice is that many of those children will suffer the long term consequences of poverty in terms of their education, health and life chances.
The position of the churches, alongside many others, is that is the wrong choice. Children are valuable gifts from God and deserve protection from the indignity of poverty – regardless of the size of their family or any other circumstance of birth.