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Two-child limit on universal credit to be partially rolled back

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/01/2019 Peter Walker Political correspondent

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Amber Rudd will announce a partial rollback to the two-child limit on universal credit payments on Friday but faces claims that she could create “two classes of family” by scrapping it for some claimants but not others.

Labour also said that the partial reverse on the two-child limit for families claiming UC, to be announced by Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, did not go far enough.

In the speech in London, Rudd is expected to promise a more careful approach to the rollout of UC. A key announcement is scrapping the plan for UC payments to only be made for a family’s first two children, which was due to start next month. The wider two-child limit for benefits came into effect in 2017, as part of efforts to curb spending.

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Opponents, led by the SNP MP Alison Thewliss, have condemned the limit, in particular the so-called rape clause, which decrees that mothers can gain exemptions to the limit if they are able to show a third child was born due to rape.

At the speech on Friday, at a job centre in south London, Rudd was to say the two-child limit for people on UC, and the new working-age integrated payment which replaces a series of existing benefits, would not happen, but only for children born before April 2017.

Rudd was to argue that it would be unfair to penalise parents who made financial decisions before the wider limit came into force, and it will still apply to children born later.

Amber Rudd with red hair looking at the camera: Work secretary Amber Rudd, who has tried to take a more cautious approach to the extension of UC. © REX/Shutterstock Work secretary Amber Rudd, who has tried to take a more cautious approach to the extension of UC.

Thewliss said that while she was pleased the government “has finally agreed that the two-child policy is unjustifiable”, she warned against the dual approach.

“The risk with what the UK government [is] now proposing is that two classes of family emerge,” she said.

“Those born after the 6 April 2017 will still be subject to the pernicious rape clause, and forced to fight for exemptions to feed their kids. This will cause confusion and perpetuate unfairness. The two-child limit will still exist and still continue to push many families into poverty in the future.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Margaret Greenwood, said: “This partial U-turn does not go far enough. Labour has long called for the government to abandon the two-child limit in its entirety.”

Since taking on the role after Esther McVey resigned in November, Rudd has tried to take a more cautious approach to the extension of UC, which has prompted concern about confusion, and delayed payments pushing claimants into debt.

The government had been due to hold a vote on the so-called migration of UC – shifting existing benefits claimants onto the new system. But Rudd has announced that instead there will be a test of this process involving 10,000 people.

“This will begin, as planned, from July 2019 and the next six months will be a period of careful preparation,” she was to say in the speech.

“The lessons from the pilot will inform our next steps, but there will be no overall delay. Universal credit migration will be completed, as planned, by 2023. However I will consider carefully the results of the pilot, and its implications for scaling-up migration.”

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