The government is facing legal action over another of its controversial welfare ‘reforms’

Theresa May Government Court
Steve Topple

The government is facing legal action over one of its most controversial welfare reforms. And it may have to defend itself in court against accusations that its policy breaches international law, by pushing nearly a quarter of a million children into poverty.


Former chancellor George Osborne introduced the ‘two child limit‘ on tax credits and Universal Credit in 2015, which came into force in April 2017. It means that parents and guardians can only claim certain benefits for two children. Any child born after 6 April 2017 who has two siblings will not be eligible for help, including child tax credits or an increase in Universal Credit. The policy has sparked controversy, especially surrounding the so-called ‘rape clause’. This is an exemption on the limit, if a rape survivor can prove a child was born because of rape.

But now, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) charity has filed for a judicial review of the policy. It says that the limit breaches human rights laws. But it also says the policy ignores the UK’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child. And as The National reported, the charity:

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made the legal move against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in August. Yesterday [17 October] it announced it had been granted permission to apply for a judicial review and take the case to a full hearing.

Driving poverty

The charity says that the policy:

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unlawfully discriminates against a number of different groups including… children with multiple siblings, large families and those with a religious or moral objection to the use of birth control.

But the evidence that the policy will cause poverty is one of the main drivers behind the legal challenge. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that [pdf, p8] the policy will make around 600,000 three-child families £2,500 a year worse off, on average. And 300,000 families with four or more children could lose up to £7,000 a year. It also found that 65% of families affected by the policy were actually in work [pdf, p15].

“Logically flawed”

Overall, the CPAG claims that the government’s policy will be pushing 200,000 more children into poverty. This, it says:

is in breach of the UK’s obligation under the UN… to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. In these circumstances, the discriminatory treatment cannot be justified.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) disagrees. It says:

This reform ensures people on benefits make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work. But we have always been clear this will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right safeguards in place.

The CPAG says the DWP argument is “logically flawed”. And it’s hard to argue with that. Because despite the DWP’s claims, 65% of families affected are actually in work anyway. The policy is illogical and irresponsible. And the government needs to scrap it.

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