Fresh concerns about how the Government’s flagship social security reforms could deepen the poverty already suffered by low-income families have been raised by major organisations.
-> Universal Credit branded a 'jaw dropping failure' as investigation shows its toll in Yorkshire
Parents are being forced to cut back on fresh food, are building up debts and being forced to withdraw older children from activities such as swimming lessons because of the two-child Universal Credit (UC) and tax credit limit, a new study partly developed by the University of Leeds today suggests.
The report, published by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England, documents the “scale of suffering” the policy is taking on family life in low-income households.
It comes after The Yorkshire Post and sister publications last month exclusively revealed that over 15,800 UC claimants from 11 council areas in the region were in rent arrears, to the value of £8,879,713 – roughly a tenth of more than £84m built up across the UK.
Next month, Harrogate residents who receive six types of benefit under the old system are due be the first in the country moved to UC – without making a new claim or having a change of circumstance – under a “managed migration” pilot scheme.
All Kids Count: the impact of the two-child limit after two years includes a projection that one million children who already live in poverty will be pushed further below the breadline by the time Universal Credit is fully rolled out in 2023/24, as a result of the two-child policy.
The report says that 5,225 families and 18,940 children in the Bradford West constituency are likely to be affected by the two-child limit – second in the list of regional areas named nationally but having the highest percentage for the latter amount.
-> Amber Rudd op-ed: Why we picked Harrogate for latest Universal Credit roll-out
A survey of more than 430 families affected by the policy around the UK found that some parents felt “shame” at not being able to provide for their children’s needs.
Sixteen follow-up interviews were carried out by academics at the University of Leeds.
One parent, named only as Paula in the report, said: “Both kids have stopped their swimming lessons, we can’t afford it. Amy has had to finish her football and Corey his basketball…she was at football six days a week and she misses it a lot. What makes it harder is they don’t understand why they could get something [before] and now they can’t.”
Several women also reported considering terminations, said the organisations.
-> 'Unholy mess' of universal credit has brought soaring rates of personal debt to my borough, says Yorkshire council chief
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “We wouldn’t turn away a sick child from our hospitals or stop them going to school, and yet the two-child limit denies families the support they need from our social security system when they experience tough times, trapping kids in poverty.”
She called on the Government to lift the two-child limit, which restricts the child element in Universal Credit and tax credits to the first two children unless there is an exemption.
According to House of Commons papers the the policy is expected to eventually yield savings of around £3 billion a year.
Some 863,000 families with three or more children were receiving tax credits alone in 2016-17, said the new report – and 66 per cent of those were in work.
A Government spokeswoman said: “This policy helps to ensure fairness by asking parents receiving benefits to face the same financial choices as those in work. Safeguards are in place and we’ve made changes this year to make the policy fairer.
“Tackling poverty remains a priority - we’re spending £95 billion a year on welfare and providing free school meals to more than a million children. We’re supporting families to improve their lives through employment and latest figures show there are 667,000 fewer children living in workless households since 2010.”