The two-child limit & ‘choices’ over family size When policy presentation collides with lived experiences

Published June 15, 2022

The two-child limit restricts the child element in Universal Credit and Tax Credits to two children in a household (for children born after April 2017). One objective of the two-child limit is to influence the fertility decisions of parents in (or at risk of) poverty; therefore it is especially important to explore and understand its fertility effects. Previous analysis of administrative birth records suggests that the two-child limit had only a very small impact on the fertility of third and subsequent births in England and Wales. In this paper, we contrast the policy assumptions underpinning the two-child limit with everyday realities of fertility decision making. To do this, we draw on qualitative interviews conducted with those directly affected by the policy. This reveals a series of mismatches between policy presentation and lived realities, which help explain the absence of sizeable fertility effects. This also points to the importance of better and more sustained engagement with qualitative evidence in the design and review of policies. It is especially vital to continue to monitor the impact of the two-child limit, given the extent of the harms it can cause, and its status as an internationally unusual and significant policy.

For a summary of the key findings of this paper and its sister quantitative paper, see this briefing from CPAG.

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