politics

Supreme court rejects challenge to universal credit ‘two-child limit’


The UK’s highest court has rejected a challenge over the government’s “two-child limit” for welfare payments.

The rule, which came into force in April 2017, restricts child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a family, with a few exceptions.

At a hearing in October last year, a panel of seven supreme court justices were asked to decide whether the limit was compatible with human rights laws – including the rights to respect for private and family life, to found a family and to freedom from discrimination – as the policy disproportionately affects women.

The challenge was brought by two lone mothers and their children – who the court ordered cannot be identified – supported by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), but was brought on behalf of all those affected by the policy.

Giving the lead ruling on Friday, the court’s president, Lord Reed, dismissed the case, upholding previous decisions of the high court and court of appeal.

The judges concluded that while the policy did have a greater impact on women – who make up 90% of single-parent families – there was an “objective and reasonable justification” for that effect, namely to “protect the economic wellbeing of the country”.

They also concluded that any impact of the policy on children in families with more than one sibling is “justifiable”.

The families who brought the challenge have both been affected by the limit, as they have children who were born after the new rule came into force under the Welfare Reform and Work Act on 6 April 2017.

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Carla Clarke, the head of strategic litigation at CPAG, said: “This is a hugely disappointing judgment, which fails to give any meaningful recognition to the reality of the policy on the ground and its desperately unfair impact on children.

“We know the two-child limit increases child poverty, including child poverty in working households, and forces women to choose between an abortion and raising their families without enough to live on.

“It limits the life chances of children by reducing them from a person to a number.

“It is well established that the ultimate safeguard against discrimination, particularly on contentious issues, lies with our courts. That is simply not in evidence in this judgment.

“We continue to believe that the policy is unlawful and, together with our clients, are considering taking the matter to the European court of human rights so that no child is left out of the social security safety net purely because of their birth order.”



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