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Two-child Universal Credit limit causes poverty, Bishop of Durham tells peers

27 March 2023

Parliament TV

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, speaks in the House of Lords on Friday

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, speaks in the House of Lords on Friday

THE Government’s decision to restrict Universal Credit support to only the first two children in a family has become the greatest contributor to driving more children into poverty, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, told the House of Lords on Friday.

Introducing the debate at the Third Reading stage of his Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill, Bishop Butler said that the limitation had affected an estimated 1.3 million children, and disproportionately affected children of certain religions and ethnic-minority backgrounds.

While the policy was intended to help the most disadvantaged children, it had produced the opposite effect. “Most families that it applies to are already in work, negating the reasoning behind the policy of ensuring that those on benefits face the same decisions as those in work,” he said.

“In some circumstances, the policy has forced parents to instead make a different decision: the choice between terminating an otherwise wanted pregnancy, or raising a family for which they cannot properly provide. That is a choice no parent should be faced with.

“Life can be unpredictable, and larger families who fall on hard times, whether it is due to losing a job, falling ill, or experiencing a pandemic, have no guarantee that they will be able to afford even the essentials. There is no longer a safety net to catch them and help put them back on their feet. Through removing the two-child limit, each and every child will be valued, and children will no longer be reduced to a number, but be seen as individuals with worth and potential.

“Ultimately, I hope that the Bill will mark one step towards making child poverty in this country a matter for the history books.”

The government whip, Lord Evans of Rainow, said that there was a need for a balanced system that provided strong work incentives and support for those who needed it, but that also ensured a sense of fairness to the taxpayer and working families who did not see their incomes rise when they had more children.

“We believe that the policy to support a maximum of two children is a proportionate way to achieve these objectives,” he said. “The most suitable way to lift children out of poverty is by supporting parents into, and to progress in, work wherever possible. The Government have [sic] a range of policies which support children and families across the tax and benefits system and public services.

“However, this requires striking a balance, and the Government’s view is that providing support for a maximum of two children in Universal Credit and child tax credit ensures fairness between claimants and those who support themselves solely through work.”

The Bill was passed to the Commons for further consideration.

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