SIXTY bishops have signed a letter that strongly criticises the “two-child limit” on benefits, which was introduced a year ago. They say that it will force mothers to choose “between poverty and terminating an unplanned pregnancy”.
In a letter to The Times, published on Friday, which was also signed by Muslim, Jewish, and other Christian leaders, the Bishops say: “Today the ‘two-child limit’ policy, which restricts tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a family, has been in place for a year. The policy is making it harder for parents to achieve a stable and resilient family life.
“By 2021, 640,000 families will have been affected. Most are low-earning working families, most have three children and some will have made decisions about family size when they were able to support children through earnings alone, but later claimed tax credits or universal credit after bereavement, redundancy, separation, disability, illness or simply low pay.
“The policy is expected to tip an estimated extra 200,000 children into poverty. It also conveys the regrettable message that some children matter less than others, depending on their place in the sibling birth order.
“There are likely to be mothers who will face an invidious choice between poverty and terminating an unplanned pregnancy.
”Children are a private joy and a public good. They are all equally deserving of subsistence support.”
The signatories include the new Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler; and the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Timothy Dakin. The chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Gillian Merron; and the General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan are among the other signatories.
The letter coincides with the publication of a report by the End Child Poverty Coalition, in partnership with the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England, which warns that the full impact of the two-policy has yet to be seen.
The report, Unhappy Birthday, argues that the policy, along with the freeze on children’s benefits, is creating the expected increase in child poverty.
It estimates that, a year since the policy came into force, “around 160,000 families are now up to £2,780 a year worse off than they would have been if their youngest child had been born in the previous year.” It says that two million children will affected by 2020/21.
Bishop Butler said: “It is simply not right that some children get support and others don’t. We share a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone in our country has a decent standard of living and the same chances in life, no matter who they are or where they come from.
“The Government has an opportunity to right this wrong by removing its two-child limit policy. We urge the Prime Minister to address this burning injustice.”
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, on Friday morning, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that changing the policy would be “a small change that won’t cost a lot of money, but will make a big impact on families that are just about managing, and most of these families are in work”.
Dr Walker said the two-child limit is “unfair on children”: “You don’t punish the innocents to get to the culpable.”
He continued: “This isn’t about people making stupid decisions [by having extra children], this is about things affecting ordinary people and their safety net being taken away.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said that the policy “will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards”.