Children’s commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have told the UK Government there is “no excuse” for continuing to breach youngsters’ rights with the two-child policy on benefits.
They have written to work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, claiming that the policy, which prevents families from claiming some benefits payments for their third and subsequent children, is a “clear breach of children’s human rights”.
The three commissioners jointly state that the rule breaches youngsters’ right to an adequate standard of living and is contributing to a rising gap in poverty levels between families with three or more children and smaller households.
The letter, from Bruce Adamson, the children and young people’s commissioner for Scotland and his Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, Sally Holland and Koulla Yiasouma, also argues that the policy has a disproportionate impact on some minority faith and ethnic communities – where larger families are more common – as well as in Northern Ireland, where families tend to be larger than the rest of the UK.
Mr Adamson, who will address MPs on the Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, said that living in poverty could impact on “every aspect of a child’s life”.
Speaking ahead of that meeting, he said: “With more than a quarter of a million children affected, poverty is the most significant human rights issue facing children in Scotland.
“Living in poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, including their educational attainment and mental and physical health.”
He recalled that Philip Alson, the UN special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, had heard directly from youngsters during a visit to Scotland in 2019, saying children told him of the “serious impact that poverty is having on their human rights”.
But Mr Adamson added: “Now, after over a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation for children in Scotland has become much worse.”
He continued: “The Scottish Government has taken some action to reduce the number of children in poverty including rolling out the Scottish Child Payment during the pandemic, however, I remain concerned that children’s rights are continuing to be breached in Scotland by the two-child limit on child tax credit and universal credit.
“That is why we have taken the step of writing to the UK Government to urge that this policy is reversed.”
Mr Adamson said while he and the commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland would hold the ministers there to account, the devolved administrations “can only go so far in their efforts to ensure children and their families get the support they are entitled to while this discriminatory policy also remains in force at a UK level”.
He added: “With the focus in the Queen’s speech in May 2021 on levelling up, there can be no excuse for continuing to breach children’s rights through this discriminatory policy that will continue to harm and prevent children and families from moving beyond the impact of the global pandemic.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting families that are most in need and the latest figures show that the percentage of children in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland living in absolute poverty has actually fallen since 2010.
“Four out of five households across the UK have two or fewer children, and this policy ensures fairness by asking families in receipt of benefits to make the same financial choices as people who support themselves solely through work.
“There are also careful exemptions and safeguards in place to protect people in the most vulnerable circumstances.”