This week we heard directly from some of the very many families affected by the two-child limit. Reading their stories has been profoundly moving. These are families trying to ensure their children thrive, hampered by an arbitrary policy that denies them the support they need from our social security system when they experience tough times.
Paula* struggles to afford the basics for her family and has turned to credit cards to keep afloat: ‘I didn’t have any credit cards this time last year. I’ve now got two. They’re maxed out... I’m in a good bit of debt now, it’s not possible to make it work at the end of the month’.
Jenny* had a baby boy in July 2017, just after the two-child limit came into effect: ‘It wasn’t a planned pregnancy but we were happy we had him'. Jenny’s mum is no longer able to help with childcare, ‘because my mum is older now and can’t do it, and we’ve moved a little bit further away’. This means that Jenny is unable to work at the moment whilst she looks after her son. She said: ‘The world needs security guards and nursery nurses, we can’t all earn millions of pounds. It was just meant to top up and help us, but unfortunately not any more.’
Andrew has had to make some very difficult decisions: ‘I’ve been like, not paying the rent, or not paying my council tax, or not paying the gas and electricity, so we’ve got food - it’s a struggle.’ Andrew is unsure how they will cope in the coming months. Without enough to cover the basic essentials, there is no money for the children to take part in extra-curricular activities: ‘everything else which is good for becoming a good-rounded adult’.
Anna* and her husband decided to have a third child when things were going well. They were not well off, but they were comfortable and lived within their means. Anna’s husband was working in recruitment but he has now lost his job and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; he has even tried to take his own life: ‘We chose to have our third child while we were both working full time in permanent professional jobs. We chose to have our child because we could afford to. However, my husband suddenly lost his job and is suffering with mental illness, so is unable to find new employment.’
Lisa* tries to buy things more cheaply, but said this can mean buying things which are lower quality and not being able to provide fresh, healthy food for their children: ‘We live on the breadline really. I need to go out at 7 o’clock on a Tuesday to go yellow sticker hunting to fill my freezer... I don’t buy foods that I would like to buy, just food that’s close to nothing… I would have liked to get them fruit. I can’t remember the last time I made a fresh dinner, it’s all stuff I’ve got in my freezer.’
Kimberly* talked about the worry caused by not having enough money: ‘It [money] just causes you unnecessary worry and stress … and you spend your whole life worrying… I can understand how people get ill with worry I mean some of my friends have made themselves ill from worrying about money and things.’
Ana* has a one year old daughter who was conceived during an abusive relationship. This included physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and coercive and controlling behaviour. She described how this abuse negatively affected her freedom to make reproductive choices: ‘He was very emotionally abusive. He told me that he couldn’t have children, and then I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t want to continue with the pregnancy as I already had two children from a previous relationship. But he threatened to kill himself if I didn’t give him this chance to be a dad. He then told my other children and my friends that I was pregnant, he posted about it on social media, and he wouldn’t let me contact the clinic about a termination.’
Nabi and Fatima are Syrian Kurdish refugees who, along with their two young children, were resettled to the UK. Prior to having their third child, the family said they were just managing financially: ‘It was just enough. If we had extra, we would take the kids out. If we didn’t, we’d stay home.’ Since their third child was born, they ‘are cutting down on spending money on the other two, just so we can spend money on the baby. Because the eldest two will understand, but the baby, without milk for instance, wouldn’t survive.’
Samantha* describes how she began to rely on the support of friends and family: ‘When I was on maternity leave things were fine but it was trying to buy everything on top of that, car seats, prams… I had a lot of financial help from my friends and family.’ Just three months after the birth of her youngest child, the financial pressures of looking after her baby daughter without the additional support, became too great: ‘I did breastfeed, but after 8 weeks going through two cartons a week, that’s £22 a week on that alone, and then nappies on top of that and baby wipes on top of that and I was only receiving £13 a week for her in child benefit…’. Samantha feels embarrassed that her two daughters, aged 7 and 10, are ‘missing out’, as she is unable to afford school trips and other activities. She also says her own mental health is suffering as a result of her financial struggles, which leaves her socially isolated.
Kauther’s* husband was recently made redundant and has become a self-employed taxi driver. She explained that they are ‘absolutely struggling’ and that ‘if his car breaks we don’t have anything to pay to fix it’.
These are stories of poverty, hardship, debt, children missing out, mental illness, family strain and isolation. And it could all be avoided. Paula* says if the two-child limit was removed, ‘The money would give my children a sense of normality. It would mean the world… It would mean they could go back to their clubs…. It would get them out socialising and being with their friends and seeing family without me counting the pennies.’
We’ve joined with over 50 other organisations to campaign for the two-child limit to be lifted. We all believe that every child should have the best start in life. It’s right to support families when they need it most. Our government should lift the two-child limit and help all children to thrive.
*Names have been changed