Northern Ireland news

More than 4,000 families 'no protection' against UK government 'two-child limit' benefit restriction - with number rising weekly as Covid-19 hits jobs

The Universal Credit total is expected to have risen in recent months with more families needing to claim the benefit because of job losses and illness due to Covid-19

MORE 4,000 families have been left with "no protection" against the UK government's `two-child limit' restriction of essential support - with the number rising weekly as Covid-19 job losses has forced more people onto Universal Credit (UC).

The policy restricts child allowances in UC and tax credits - worth up to £50 per week per child - to the first two children in a family and applies to all those born after April 2017, when the policy was introduced.

Last week Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced she is planning support for those hit by the Tory benefit reforms through the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and the two child tax credit rule by ensuring they are ""included in any future legislation and regulations".

However, the department was unable to provide data on how many households and children are affected by the two-child tax credit rule or the average amount deducted from these families, as tax credits are administered by HM Revenue and Customs from Westminster.

New claimants are enrolled on UC which is administered by the Department for Communities - although that number as also not been released.

SDLP MP Claire Hanna obtained the tax credit figures from the Treasury after tabling a question in Westminster and they reveal 3,900 tax credit recipient families from the north have been affected by the two-child cap and have "ineligible children".

Meanwhile, the UC total is expected to have risen in recent months with more families needing to claim the benefit because of job losses and illness due to Covid-19.

Mark H Durkan, SDLP social justice spokesperson, said it is "concerning that the Department for Communities had not obtained these figures from the Treasury itself".

"Regardless of who administers Tax Credits, the two-child rule applies to families in Northern Ireland and the department should be monitoring its reach and impact.

"Nearly 4,000 families have been hit by the cruel two-child tax credit limit, risking even greater levels of child poverty.

"The welfare mitigation package agreed after the DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance voted to hand our welfare powers over to the Tory government included no protection for these families. It is imperative that the forthcoming legislation for the new round of mitigations includes protection for these families affected by the two-child rule."

Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick, a social security researcher and adviser to the Cliff Edge Coalition, said the two-child limit policy "will have a profound impact on child poverty levels", with families in the north likely to "suffer most intensely due to the prevalence of bigger families".

"The current pandemic has inevitably increased the number of households affected by the two-child limit.

"UK statistics show that "almost 1 million children are living in households now feeling the impact of receiving benefit for their first two children". Unfortunately it is not clear what the impact is here, as the Department for Communities do not publish comparable statistics.

"It is very welcome that the Minister for Communities, Carál Ní Chuilín, has expressed that she is keen to look at mitigating the two child limit, in the context of reviewing the current mitigation package.

"I would urge work to begin on this immediately, as more and more families feel the pain of losing almost £3,000 per additional child per year."

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