Official figures: number of families affected by two-child limit reaches 318,000

Published on: 
15 July 2021

Official figures out today show the number of families affected by the two-child limit in universal credit and tax credits jumped by 67,000  in the year to April 2021 to reach 318,000.
1.1 million children1 are now affected by the policy, up from 900,000 in April 2020.  
Today’s figures, from DWP and HMRC, also show that in the year to April 2021, 1,330 exemptions from the policy were granted on the grounds of conception as a result of non-consensual sex.
Separately, information supplied by the Department of Health & Social Care in response to FOI requests shows that the number of abortions among women with two or more previous children has risen by 24% since 2016, the year before the policy was introduced. This is more than three times the rate of increase among women with 1 or fewer previous children (7%).2
The two-child policy restricts child allowances in universal credit and tax credits (worth £237.08 per month) to the first two children in a family, unless the children were born before April 2017, when the policy was introduced.
The number of households claiming universal credit almost doubled in the year to February 2021, reaching 5 million.
The total number of families affected by the policy since it came into effect in 2017, is 318,000. Most (56%) are working, despite Covid-driven job losses. Most (60%) affected families have three children.
Commenting on today’s statistics, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said:

“Universal credit should be a port in the storm for families but the two-child policy means many are denied the support they need for children - just when they need it most. The pandemic has shown us how quickly circumstances can change but this policy limits the life chances of kids by reducing them from a person to a number. The only way to prevent more children from being damaged by poverty is for the Government to end the two-child policy.”

The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, said:

“The two-child limit is now the main driver of rising child poverty and is pushing many more children even deeper into poverty. Every day, we hear stories from families affected by this policy, who cannot afford to buy clothes or other basic items for their children. We don’t think it’s right that these families are not getting the support they need when parents lose their jobs or their relationship breaks down, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Our government should lift the two-child limit and help every parent to give their children the best start in life.”

The two-child limit exclusively affects families already at a higher risk of poverty. Latest DWP annual poverty statistics, published in March, show that while the UK child poverty rate is 31%, 47% of children in families with three or more children are in poverty, up from 43% the year before and 36% a decade earlier.

As well as driving an increase in the number of children in poverty, the policy increases the depth of poverty for large numbers of children. Revoking the policy would lift 200,000 children out of poverty and lessen the depth of poverty for another 600,000 children at a cost of £1bn.   

Parents surveyed by CPAG and the Church of England between September 2020 and June 2021 said3:

“I’m in so much debt. I get roughly enough for the school run and some shopping but I can’t afford clothes, footwear or gas and electric. I’m meant to pay rent - I can’t because I never have anything left. I don’t smoke, I never drink, I can’t pay the water bill and I always get cut off on my mobile, I just can’t afford it. My children are in old clothes and get teased at school and I can’t even buy them any new stuff.”
Single parent to three children, South East, in part-time work
“I can’t even afford to buy my baby the basics like a pram, bottles… I didn’t realise how much this would impact me, and after splitting with my partner it’s caused a massive impact. My kids are picking up on how stressed and depressed I am that I can’t even afford to be a mummy and take care of them right. I never planned to be single (mum) with children and it’s making my mental health so bad.”
Single parent to three children, South West, not in paid work
“It’s been very difficult. I’m having to decide on paying bills or feeding my children. Me and my partner are going without food so that we can ensure our children are fed.”
Couple, parents to three children, East of England, in part-time work
“I struggle to keep the house warm. I can’t buy the youngest two the clothes and food they need because the older children need more and are bigger. It’s horrible.”

 Single parent to three children, West Midlands, not in paid work
“I was using what I was told was a very reliable method of contraception which sadly failed. Termination is not something I am morally comfortable with so I continued with the pregnancy, however it has left us in financial difficulty as I can no longer work more than a few hours a week. … It is not my child's fault they exist, nor should [we] be forced to choose between food or heating as a result.”
Couple in full and part time work south west. Four children south east
Notes to editors:
CPAG’s short Briefing on today’s statistics and the two-child policy is here.
The statistics are here Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit claimants: statistics related to the policy to provide support for a maximum of 2 children, April 2021 - GOV.UK (
Research by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), published in December 2020, found that the two-child limit is a significant factor in women’s decision to end a pregnancy, with 57 per cent of women who were aware of, and likely to be affected by, the policy saying it affected their choice.
UC claimants can receive child allowances for more than two children if the children were born before 6 April 2017 or the family was already claiming for three or more children before 6 April 2017, or if other very limited exceptions (for example multiple births and kinship care and adopted children) apply.
CPAG media contact: Jane Ahrends 07816 909302

  • 1. The 1.1 million children affected by the policy includes all children in an affected family
  • 2. Data for 2020: FOI-1336605; data for 2019: FOI-1233328; data for 2008-2018: FOI-1182081
  • 3. Parents’ quotes are from an ongoing survey of families affected by the two-child limit. The survey has been running since February 2019. Users of the Entitledto benefits calculator who are likely to be subject to the two-child limit are invited to participate. By the end of June 2021, the survey had received 1,986 responses, including 863 responses in the past year.