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Who paid the price of George Osborne’s two-child benefit cap? Britain’s poorest children | Mary Reader and Jonathan Portes

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No other country in the world caps benefits after the second child. It’s time we stopped this cruel policy

The long list of cuts made to social security benefits in the years after the 2010 election were justified by one purpose: to save money. But one cut in particular was about much more than that. The introduction of a two-child cap on benefits meant that anyone with a larger family would have to manage without the support of child tax credit or universal credit for a third or subsequent children. “Quite simply, we have been encouraging working-age people to have children and not work, when we should be enabling working-age people to work and have children. So it’s time we asked some serious questions about the signals we send out through the benefits system,” David Cameron said of the policy in 2012.

In other words, the supposed “generosity” of the benefit system encouraged families on a low income to have more children, knowing that they would receive financial support for each additional child. Claims that families were “milking” the system were common at the time. And so, when George Osborne announced the limit in 2015, he said that the aim was “to ensure that families in receipt of benefits faced the same financial choices about having children as those supporting themselves solely in work”.

Mary Reader is a research officer at the London School of Economics

Jonathan Portes is a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London. The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation

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