Alison Thewliss MP: The DWP's two-child benefit limit is a failed policy - it has to go
The UK Government’s regressive two-child limit is no longer simply a pernicious policy, it is a failed one, says Alison Thewliss MP.
The recent publication of data by the UK Government setting out the impact of the UK Government’s regressive two-child limit is, for many of us, food for thought. I hope Ministers are taking the time to reflect on what is now beyond doubt; that this is no longer simply a pernicious policy, it is a failed one.
I am as appalled today about the two-child limit and rape clause as I was when I stumbled across it in George Osborne’s 2015 Budget. This is a rule that restricts entitlement to benefits to two children in a family, allows no dispensation for changes in personal circumstances, and forces women who give birth to a third or subsequent child through a sickening rape clause exemption process. It is evil to its core.
The devastating impact of the two-child limit is illuminated by the recent data. So far, 161,000 households across Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit Full Service have been impacted, representing an increase of almost 90,000 between 2018 and 2019. That translates to almost 600,000 children across the UK who are not eligible for the same level of support that the first two children in a family would be – worth approximately £2,870 a year per child.
In 2015, the Tory UK Government went to great lengths to tell us that the purpose of their two-child limit was to “teach” those on benefits a valuable lesson about the costs of children, and emphasise that those receiving benefits should not rely on taxpayers’ money to insulate them from the financial consequences of their choices. However, the data reveals that of the 161,000 households affected, 59% had at least one adult in work, shattering their supercilious philosophy. Whether Ministers will remain obstinately wedded to this wicked policy, with its stated aims in tatters, we will have to wait and see.
The data tells a similarly alarming story with regards the non-consensual sex exemption, or rape clause. According to the statistics, 510 women across the UK have been forced to disclose that a third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape in order to qualify for Universal Credit or Child Tax Credits.
This is bad enough but, of course, the data only tells half a story. What isn’t captured is the trauma that women have had to relive whilst going through the exemption process, the potential adverse impact on their mental health, or the danger that they may be putting themselves in by disclosing details of an assault whilst they remain in an abusive relationship. We must also remember that there will be many women who have felt they couldn’t come forward, instead having to deny themselves the financial support that they are entitled to because the process is so draconian.
In Northern Ireland the situation that the UK Government has created with regards the rape clause is even more outrageous. Third party referrers – including doctors – are obligated to report crimes, including rape, to the police, meaning that women in Northern Ireland could be placed in an even more precarious position with regards their safety should they engage with the exemption process.
That hundreds of women have had to tell a stranger that their child was conceived as a result of rape or coercion, just to make ends meet, is a stain on this UK Government and every Minister who has stood to defend this policy.
Earlier this year Amber Rudd, Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), amended the policy, meaning that it would only apply to those children born after April 2017 (when the policy came into force). This however risks creating two classes of family, with those born after 6 April 2017 still subjected to it, further perpetuating and embedding unfairness in the system.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Church of England – along with the support of other agencies – recently published a report which puts beyond doubt the notion that families can work themselves out of the two-child limit. Indeed, the UK Government’s own data underlines that the majority of families affected are in work.
I urge the new Prime Minister to take proper cognisance of this data, recognise the undeniable damage that his party’s policies are doing to the very fabric of our society, and scrap this failed policy immediately."
Alison Thewliss is SNP MP for Glasgow Central.