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What is motivating this project?

Larger families have always faced a higher risk of poverty. Two recent welfare reforms (the household benefit cap, which limits the benefit income a household can receive, and the two-child limit, which restricts universal credit and tax credits to two children) are expected to increase this risk even further. These reforms also break with precedent in the social security system by breaking the link between assessed need and entitlement to support.

Image Pedro Ramos

Despite the importance of these changes, there are still gaps in our understanding of i) how the reforms are affecting patterns of poverty; ii) how families themselves are responding to the changes, and iii) whether they are affecting wider well-being. There is some early analysis of these policies but the available evidence is small-scale and incomplete. While the policies are already affecting an increasing numbers of families, they have yet to be formally evaluated.

This project uses a variety of different research methods and seeks to learn from the insights that can be gained these alternative approaches:

How has the profile of poverty been affected by the two-child limit and benefits cap?

Using large surveys, we will describe the economic circumstances, ethnicity and geography of larger families, and examine the extent to which the changes have increased the risk and depth of poverty for particular groups, and have reduced the effectiveness of the social security system in protecting households when a new baby is born. We will use smaller families as a reference point but our primary focus will be on larger families.

How are families coping?

We plan to follow 44 larger families over 18 months – interviewing primary caregivers at three points in time (using Qualitative longitudinal research - QLR) – as they experience the changing welfare policy context. We will interview families in Leeds, Bradford, London, and York, and will try to talk a range of families who represent the diverse situations of those who are affected by these policies. By interviewing caregivers at three points in time, we will generate a rich and changing picture of how larger families are affected by welfare reform, feeding into the quantitative analyses in later phases of the project and grounding them in lived experiences. 

Image Cat Fortey

Has wider well-being of affected families been harmed?

We will examine effects of the reforms on parental mental health and (potentially) children’s self-reported well-being, using statistical models. Flexibility will be built into this stage to facilitate analyses of unanticipated consequences emerging from our interviews and the insights of families themselves.

The project will deliver timely and policy relevant evidence on the impact of the two-child limit and benefit cap on affected families. We will work closely with project policy partner – Child Poverty Action Group – to share findings from the project, and are also working in close collaboration with the councils of Bradford, Greenwich, and Tower Hamlets.

Overall, the project will adopt a varied approach to develop new insights into the impact of these two reforms, which radically reshape benefits in the UK, delivering a greater understanding of the changing poverty profile and risk faced by families with more than two children.

We are very grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for funding this research programme. In this video, you can hear from Alex Beer about why they decided to fund this research and why it's important.

Dr Ruth Patrick (University of York); Dr Aaron Reeves (University of Oxford); Dr Kitty Stewart (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

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