Children’s Commissioners in devolved nations appeal to UK Government to end ‘discriminatory’ two-child limit on benefits

The Children’s Commissioners of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have today published a letter they have sent to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for an end to the two-child limit on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit.

In the letter, the Commissioners state that the policy, which disallows benefits payments to the third and subsequent children born after April 2017 in most circumstances, is ‘a clear breach of children’s human rights’ that “is inconsistent with the commitments made by the UK through the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee will today hear evidence from Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland who will present the collective views of the Commissioners in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, that the efforts of their devolved governments to tackle child poverty are being restricted by UK benefits rules. 

He will talk about the impact of current welfare benefits on child poverty in Scotland and explain that even before Covid-19, poverty represented the greatest human rights issues facing children.  

Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, Bruce Adamson said: 

“With more than a quarter of a million children affected, poverty is the most significant human rights issue facing children in Scotland. Living in poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, including their educational attainment and mental and physical health.  The UK’s approach to poverty was examined in 2019 by the United Nations’ top expert on poverty and human rights who highlighted that it is political decisions by government that are leading to disastrous levels of poverty. When Professor Alston came to Scotland to meet with children and their families, he heard from them about the serious impact that poverty is having on their human rights. Now after over a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation for children in Scotland has become much worse.” 

Two-child limit breaches children’s rights

The open letter from the Commissioners to the Right Honourable Thérèse Coffey, MP states that the two-child limit breaches children’s rights to an adequate standard of living and is contributing to a rising gap in poverty levels between families with three or more children and smaller households.

The Commissioners note that the policy also has disproportionate impacts on social groups where larger families are more common, such as some minority faith and ethnic groups and in Northern Ireland where families are larger than the rest of the UK. 

Bruce Adamson said:

“The Scottish Government has taken some action to reduce the number of children in poverty including rolling out the Scottish Child Payment during the pandemic, however I remain concerned that children’s rights are continuing to be breached in Scotland by the two-child limit on child tax credit and universal credit. That is why we have taken the step of writing to the UK Government to urge that this policy is reversed. 

“We will continue to hold our devolved governments to account in relation to their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights, but these governments can only go so far in their efforts to ensure children and their families get the support they are entitled to while this discriminatory policy also remains in force at a UK level.” 

Levelling-up agenda must start by discontinuing two-child policy

The Commissioners conclude their letter by stating that the ‘levelling up’ agenda signalled in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month must start by discontinuing the two-child policy:  

“With the focus in the Queen’s speech in May 2021 on ‘levelling up’, there can be no excuse for continuing to breach children’s rights through this discriminatory policy that will continue to harm and prevent children and families from moving beyond the impact of the global pandemic.”  

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