On Sunday the Work and Pensions Committee released a report on the two-child limit in the benefits system, highlighting how it disproportionately affects faith communities and families in Northern Ireland.
The two-child limit, announced in 2015, restricts the benefits provided to a family to two children (with some exceptions). Children born on or after April 2017 who are the third or later child in the family are not entitled to the ‘child element’ of tax credits or Universal Credit, worth £2,780 a year.
The Government has argued that it believes ‘that those in receipt of tax credits should face the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves in work.’
In contrast, the Committee’s report highlighted that a number of expert organisations have predicted that the two-child limit will lead to significant increases in the numbers of children living in poverty, and that some communities will be particularly affected.
The report outlined how larger families are more prevalent in faith communities and that ‘the decisions that those families make about having children are also likely to be motivated by their religious convictions and practices.’ Data commissioned from the ONS by the Church of England found that for Christians, 28% of children live in families with three or more dependent children. This figure rose to 52% for Jewish families and 60% for Muslim families.
The Church of England argued in their submission to the committee, ‘We are opposed to this policy, above all because it penalises children through no fault of their own. It will contribute to a sharp rise in child poverty and have detrimental impacts on children’s health, education, and well-being, the full effects of which will not be felt for around a decade.’
Families in Northern Ireland also tend to be larger than those in the rest of the UK, meaning they will be disproportionately affected by the limit. The report noted that ‘The two-child limit is expected to increase absolute poverty between 2015/16 and 2021/22 by one percentage point in Northern Ireland, compared with 0.4 percentage points in South East England and 0.5 percentage points in Scotland.’
 HM Treasury, Summer Budget 2015, HC 264, paras 1.141–1.150