Supreme court rejects challenge to UC ‘two-child limit’

Fears over rising rent arrears and increased eviction levels have followed the country’s highest court rejecting a challenge to the Government’s “two-child limit” for welfare payments.

Dating from April 2017, the rule restricts child tax credit and Universal Credit to the first two children in a family, with limited exceptions. The challenge was brought by two single mothers and their children, supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, on behalf of all those affected by the policy.

The Supreme Court justices were asked to decide whether the limit was compatible with human rights laws, including the rights to respect for private and family life, to found a family and to freedom from discrimination, as the policy disproportionately affects women.

The judges dismissed the case, upholding previous decisions of the high court and court of appeal. The judges concluded that while the policy did have a greater impact on women, who make up 90 per cent of single parent families, there was an “objective and reasonable justification” for that effect, namely to “protect the economic wellbeing of the country”. They also concluded that any impact of the policy on children in families with more than one sibling is “justifiable”.

The families who brought the challenge have both been affected by the limit, as they have children who were born after the new rule came into force under the Welfare Reform and Work Act on 6 April 2017.

Carla Clarke, the head of strategic litigation at CPAG, said: “This is a hugely disappointing judgment, which fails to give any meaningful recognition to the reality of the policy on the ground and its desperately unfair impact on children.

“We know the two-child limit increases child poverty, including child poverty in working households, and forces women to choose between an abortion and raising their families without enough to live on.

“We continue to believe that the policy is unlawful and, together with our clients, are considering taking the matter to the European court of human rights so that no child is left out of the social security safety net purely because of their birth order.”

There are now fears that welfare payments will not be increased for many low-income families and that rent arrears, already under huge pressure during the Covid lockdowns, will increase significantly. This is turn could see a big jump in evictions from September onwards, with the easing of rules which have discouraged landlords from taking back possession of their properties.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor