A mum sitting at a table looking worried at some bills. Two children are drawing next to her.

"My children are people, not numbers."  How the two-child benefit limit impacts families  

Published on
11 January 2024

Hear from Danielle, a mum of four, on how the two-child benefit limit affects her children. We want the Government to end this sibling penalty and lift 250,000 children out of poverty.

Danielle lives in Fulham, West London, with her children aged twelve, five, three years old and seven months old. As she only receives Government support for the eldest two, it means she has less money to buy all her children the things they need.    

“When I applied for a local support payment to buy a bed, I was asked, ‘which child is this for?’ It felt like if the bed was for one of my first two children, they’d help me get it, but if not, what do they expect my child to do? Sleep on the floor? Yeah, I find it really unfair.”   

While Danielle understands that the Government are trying to reduce costs, she feels that "they're looking at me and my children as numbers, not as people.” The result is that every month is a struggle for the family as they need to try and replace outgrown clothes or fix things that break.  

“It's the same all year round, every month. I feel like I have to choose which child I’m going to buy something for each month. Who's going to get forgotten about this month? Who takes priority?”  

I'm really hoping and praying that the policy gets scrapped. For me, that's an extra £500 a month. I could easily get them all everything they need with that. It would definitely make a big difference.

We’re taking action on child poverty

We’re helping struggling children and families who use our services by providing them with emergency support such as beds, access to food, and support with their mental wellbeing. We’re calling on the Government to make sure no child misses out on the basics and recommend three main actions to tackle child poverty. One of these is to end the two-child limit on benefits.  

What is the two-child benefit limit? 

Since April 2017 parents having a third, or subsequent child do not qualify for additional support through child tax credit or universal credit. This limit means families who receive these benefits are denied £3,235 per year, per child, if they have two children, and have any more.   

This effectively operates as a sibling penalty and is currently the single biggest policy driver of child poverty in the UK (Child Poverty Action Group, 2023)  

Ali Cooper, Senior Policy Advisor on Child Poverty at Barnardo's says “We know from our frontline work that this policy penalises children who happen to have more than one brother or sister, even though poverty is already highest in families with more than two children. Ending the sibling penalty is one of the most cost-effective ways of lifting children out of poverty.”  


children would be lifted out of poverty if the two-child limit on benefits was ended. 

Ending the two-child benefit limit would lift 250,000 children out of poverty, and a further 850,000 children would be in less deep poverty. This would cost £1.3 billion to fund. Unless it is abolished, the number of children affected by the policy could reach 3 million by the mid-2030s (Child Poverty Action Group, 2023).

Three actions the Government can take to lift children out of poverty  

Urgent action is needed to tackle child poverty in the UK. We have three key recommendations for the UK Government that will make a real difference to  families experiencing financial hardship. You can read more about these recommendations in our report, No crib for a bed: the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on bed poverty.  

Ending the two-child benefit limit that Danielle talks about here would make the biggest difference. However, there are two other actions the Government could take:  

  • implement an Essentials Guarantee: ensure that the amount of Universal Credit families receive is always enough to afford essential items so they can better accommodate unexpected costs such as replacing a broken bed or bedding  

  • fix the Fund: urgently extend funding for the Household Support Fund in the Autumn Statement 2023. The Fund is money given by the Government to local councils to support households in financial crisis, but the fund ends in March 2024. You can help us ask the Government to extend the Household Support Fund by emailing your MP 

*Picture posed by models

A woman looks concerned looking at some bills while two children hug her

Why families living in poverty need the Household Support Fund  

Ali Cooper, Senior Policy Advisor on Child Poverty at Barnardo's, explains what the Household Support Fund is and why it needs to be extended to help children growing up in poverty. 

A girl wearing her coat inside stands next to a radiator

No child should grow up in poverty  

It’s not fair that more than one in four children in the UK live in poverty. Children deserve more than empty stomachs, sleepless nights, and cold homes. 

A young girl cuddling a doll sitting on a mattress on the floor

What is bed poverty?  

We published research that found parents in over 1 million families have given up their own beds so their child had somewhere to sleep. Learn about bed poverty and how the cost-of-living crisis is increasing the number of children in poverty across the UK.