Volunteers at the Wisbech food bank, Cambridgeshire make up an emergency parcel suitable for a large family, April 2019. This food bank can sometimes offer families with children an additional £5 voucher to be redeemed at the local butcher or greengrocers. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch/Kartik Raj

Imagine you and your partner work but don’t bring home enough money to support your two children, so you rely on social security assistance to help cover basic necessities like food and housing. Then you have a third child. Your costs and bills suddenly increase, yet the state says your third child is not entitled to any additional support.

That’s now the reality for thousands of people in the United Kingdom under a “two child limit” policy on social security support. Introduced in 2017, this arbitrary policy unfairly penalizes poorer families with three or more children.

Human Rights Watch today joins the All Kids Count campaign, a coalition of UK NGOs, charities, and faith-based groups, convened by the Child Poverty Action Group, to insist that the order in which a child is born into a family should make no difference in how the state treats them.

Human Rights Watch recently published research finding that the “two child limit” is part of a wider set of cuts to government welfare spending that contribute to families going hungry or relying on emergency food handouts to get by.

Despite the government’s important concession in January that it would not apply the limit retroactively to children born before April 2017, official figures published recently show the controversial policy is already affecting 592,000 children. Anti-poverty specialists have warned that this policy could push 300,000 children into poverty by 2024.

Between 2010 and 2018, welfare spending on families as a proportion of UK GDP fell by half. Over the same time period, usage of the country’s main charitable food bank network grew fifty-fold.

While the government seeks to justify welfare cuts as a way of incentivizing people to work, new official figures show that 59% of those affected by the “two child limit” are working parents.

It is widely accepted that as UK schools close for summer holidays, more kids will go hungry, as the warm school meals many families relied on to get their children through the day are no longer available to them.

The government has a duty to make sure all people, including every child, have access to adequate food. The “two child limit” policy is inconsistent with that duty.

The UK government should scrap the policy now, and show it cares about the rights of every child in the country.