What is the two-child benefit cap?

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech on welfare reform at the Centre for Social Justice on April 19, 2024 in London, England. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for an end to the
Rishi Sunak has pledged to keep the two-child benefit cap if the Conservatives win the next election. (Getty)

The Conservatives will keep the two-child benefit cap if they win the next election, the Prime Minister has said - prompting critics to say that "making kids poor" is his political priority.

Campaigners have called for the cap - which restricts a family's Universal Credit support to two children - to be abolished. They say record levels of child poverty mean the policy should be scrapped and families should be helped rather than punished.

But on Sunday, Rishi Sunak committed to keeping the policy if his party wins the forthcoming general election. Writing in The Sun On Sunday, he said: “Working families do not see their incomes rise when they have more children. Families on benefits should be asked to make the same financial decisions as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

He added: “There is nothing compassionate about consigning people who could work to a life trapped on benefits. We will change the system so that we are giving people a hand up rather than a hand-out.”

The article follows a speech on Friday by Sunak in which he set out welfare reforms aimed at reducing the number of people receiving benefits and bring spending down, calling for an end to “sick note culture” and warning against “over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life”.

What is the two-child benefit cap?

The two-child benefit cap restricts Universal Credit support to two children in a family.

Introduced by the Conservatives in 2017, it is said to cost families upwards of £3,200 a year and almost half of those affected by the two-child benefit limit are single parents, according to some research.

Families hit by the cap can still claim child benefit, as well as help with childcare costs and support for disabled children, providing they meet the right criteria.

But some families are also affected by the benefit cap, which limited the benefits households can receive if they fewer than 16 hours a week.

The number of people claiming at least one health-related benefit has soared since the pandemic, with one in 10 people now receiving support, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

What other welfare reforms has Rishi Sunak announced?

Sunak announced a number of proposed reforms, which have been criticised by some unions and charities. They include:-

  • 'Tightening up' work capability assessments - Sunak said: "hundreds of thousands of benefit recipients with less severe conditions will now be expected to engage in the world of work - and [will] be supported to do so".

  • GPs no longer carrying out work assessments - Sunak said the government has designed a "a new system where people [would] have easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support to help them back to work from the very first fit note conversation".

  • Benefit claimants having to find extra work - Sunak said "higher expectations" need to be placed on those who are able to work while claiming benefits.

  • Removing benefits if someone doesn’t accept a job.

  • Reviewing mental health payments - Sunak said the government will publish a consultation moved to.a system where people are required to provide more evidence to substantiate claims around mental health and make the system "harder to exploit".

  • Introducing new powers to target benefit fraud.

The Job Centre Plus building in Stockton on Tees,England,UK
Welfare reforms announced by Sunak include putting "higher expectations" on those who are able to work while claiming benefits. (Stock image: PA)

What do campaigners say?

Campaigners have criticised Sunak for using “hostile rhetoric” and pointed to record levels of child poverty in the UK as they called for the abolition of the two-child benefit cap.

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said: “With child poverty at a record high, the Prime Minister has now clearly decided that making kids poor is his political priority.

“After Covid and the cost-of-living crisis, struggling families need a helping hand not another kick in the teeth. The two-child limit makes life harder for kids, punishing them for having brothers and sisters. It’s time to scrap this nasty policy.”

The two-child benefit cap features among demands from a campaign launched last week to lift a million children out of poverty by 2030, backed by human rights lawyer Cherie Blair and former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield.

Cherie Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair surrounded by disadvantaged children after switching on the Christmas lights of the Downing Street festive tree outside the British Prime Minister's official residence, 10 Downing Street, Monday 12 December, 2005. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: Jane Mingay/PA   (Photo by Jane Mingay - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
A campaign launched to lift a million children out of poverty by 2030 has been backed by human rights lawyer Cherie Blair and former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield. (Getty)

Where are child poverty levels right now?

Official statistics published in March showed child poverty hit record highs last year, with 4.33 million children living in households in relative low income in the year to March 2023.

For a couple with two children, this meant a combined weekly income of less than £530 after housing costs.

One in four children are considered to be in absolute poverty, defined as households below 60% of the median income in 2010/11, uprated by inflation, equivalent to less than £485 a week after housing costs for a couple with two children.

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