Churches condemn ‘fundamental changes’ to benefits affecting families

JPIT New LOGOThe United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the Church of Scotland have spoken out in support of the UK’s most vulnerable children – in the light of ‘fundamental changes’ to benefits for families.

Changes in Universal Credit, which came into force on Thursday (6 April), mean that the benefit will not offer help to the third or further children in a family.

The Joint Public Issues Team, bringing together the four Churches to work together on issues of justice and inequality, represents more than 800,000 people. It said the move would deliberately ignore the needs of some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable children and push more families into poverty.

Over the next three years, JPIT reports that around 640,000 families containing at least two million children will see substantially lower Universal Credit payments. From November 2018, the two-child limit will also be applied retrospectively: ‘The needs of the third child, born long before the two-child limit was thought, of will also be ignored.’

Grace Pengelly, the United Reformed Church’s Secretary for Church and Society, said: ‘We should be appalled that children’s needs are being deliberately ignored, no matter what the justification. It is extraordinary that the government has pressed ahead with this cut despite the fact that its own research says that it is not likely to achieve its aim of encouraging families to have fewer children.’

Rachel Lampard, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, added: ‘The two-child rule takes a knife to the social security safety net and hundreds of thousands of the UK’s most vulnerable children will fall through the gap created. These cuts are the driving force behind the expected increases in child poverty over the next decade. The consequences for these children will last for a life-time.’

The Revd Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Church & Society Council, Church of Scotland, commented: ‘From Thursday, payments under Universal Credit will deliberately ignore the needs of some of the UK’s poorest children. The government’s flagship benefit will not offer help to the third or further children in a family. How can a decent society look at an impoverished child – and then ignore their needs?’

Both the government’s impact assessment and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) research make it clear that the two-child limit is not expected to achieve its aim of reducing the number of children born to poorer families needing the support of the benefit system.

YouGov polling in October 2015 indicated that the majority (61%) of UK adults believe benefits should be high enough to cover families’ basic costs.

Speaking on the statistics, the Revd Stephen Keyworth, of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, commented: ‘This policy flies in the face of one of our benefit system’s founding principles – that families should have enough to meet their basic needs. Our churches believe this principle is important and polling indicates that the public believe this principle to be important too. The two-child limit recognises that larger families have additional needs, but chooses to ignore them. We urge the government, even at this late stage, to hold to the founding principles of the benefit system and not deliberately ignore the needs of the most vulnerable children in society.’