Two-child limit benefits limit will cause ‘deep and inescapable child poverty’, Supreme Court told

The Government’s “two-child limit” for welfare payments will cause “deep and inescapable child poverty”, the UK’s highest court has been told.

It “fails to recognise children as deserving of social protection in their own right”, lawyers for two families bringing a legal challenge over the policy argued.

The rule, which came into force in April 2017, restricts Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit to the first two children in a family, with a few exceptions.

At a remote hearing on Tuesday, a panel of seven Supreme Court justices were being asked to decide whether the limit is incompatible with human rights laws.

The families – whom the court has ordered cannot be identified – have both been affected by the limit, with children born after the new rule came into force under the Welfare Reform and Work Act on April 6 2017.

Richard Drabble QC (pictured), barrister for the families, argued that the policy breaches the families’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In documents submitted to the court, he said that the two welfare benefits “are the safety-net benefits for children in the UK”.

He said: “The two-child limit will generate deep and inescapable child poverty, due to the core human rights defect that it fails to recognise children as deserving of social protection in their own right.”

Mr Drabble argued that the policy creates a “cliff edge” under which the daily living needs of children born third in a family or later “are simply not met, without any evaluation of whether the benefit payable for the family as a whole, including all the children in it, is adequate”.

This “cliff edge” can also “create exceptional pressure on sexual relationships” and affect parents’, particularly women’s, choices over issues such as abstinence, abortion and contraception, and whether to have another child whose subsistence needs would not be met due to the “two-child” rule.

The barrister said “the two-child limit imposes pressure to abstain altogether from sexual activity, bring up children in deep poverty, or contravene a moral belief.

“Therefore, it has a very direct impact on people with philosophical or religious objection to abortion.”

Mr Drabble said the policy fails to distinguish between those who have a third child while claiming benefit, and those families who have a third child when not claiming benefits, who later face “adverse unexpected circumstances” which mean they need to do so.

He said that, as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused a spike in families needing to claim benefit, “there are all sorts of reasons for a benefit claim, and they are generally outside the control or expectation of the benefit claimants”.

The Government is contesting the case, arguing that the policy does not breach human rights laws.

In documents before the court, Sir James Eadie QC said the aims of the policy include ensuring that welfare spending is sustainable and fair to the taxpayer, while protecting the most vulnerable.

It also aims to ensure “that people in receipt of benefits should face the same choices as those who support themselves solely through work and are not in receipt of income-related benefits”, and “that the benefits system incentivises work and progression in work, recognising that work is the best route out of poverty”.

The barrister also argued that the Government’s objectives “do not depend on people deciding to have fewer children, but rather shift the consequences of such decisions on to the individuals themselves and away from the state”.

The hearing is due to last three days and the judges are expected to give their ruling at a later date.

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