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Lost opportunities: parents’ perspectives on how the two-child limit policy is affecting their children’s early learning and development

From April 2017, families in the UK stopped receiving the child element of Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit for their third and subsequent children. It is estimated that families affected by this limit lose out on up to £3,235 per child per year. Given the well-established relationship between family income and child development outcomes, we sought to interview parents affected by the policy to understand how it might be affecting their experiences of parenting and opportunities for early learning.

How might the two-child limit policy be affecting children’s early learning?

Click here to read a summary of qualitative research with families impacted by the two-child limit policy


Given the well-established relationship between family income and child development outcomes, we sought to investigate how the 2CL policy might be affecting families’ experiences of parenting and accessing early learning opportunities. To do so, we interviewed a diverse sample of 35 parents from families affected by the policy, living across four English local authorities.

We specifically asked parents about:

  • how they thought the 2CL policy had affected their family overall
  • any differences they observed between the opportunities afforded to their younger children (for whom they do not receive the child element of Universal/Child Tax Credit) versus their older children
  • their youngest children’s experiences preparing for school
  • the difference it would make if the policy were reversed.

Our findings

  • Parents highlighted experiencing severe and increasing financial hardship, leading to struggles in affording necessities and accumulating debts.
  • Families affected by the 2CL policy experienced diminished opportunities for children's learning and early education, play, and socialisation compared to older siblings or similar families unaffected by the policy.
  • Parents reported increased stress, worry and guilt over their inability to provide for their children adequately, affecting their overall mental health and parenting capabilities.
  • Parents view the 2CL policy as unfair, punishing and a hindrance to children’s early development.

Next steps

Our qualitative research provides evidence to support the likelihood that the 2CL policy could be having an adverse impact on children’s early development via both scarcer family resources and increased parental stress.

In the next part of our study, we will continue learning about the early development of children affected by the 2CL, particularly with regards to how the 2CL may be impacting school readiness. The Institute of Fiscal Studies will carry out quantitative analysis of outcome data gathered in children’s first year of school, to investigate whether there is evidence of a relationship between children being affected by the 2CL and poorer outcomes at age five.


Simran Motiani

Simran Motiani

Simran Motiani

Analyst, fairer start mission

Simran joins Nesta as an analyst for the fairer start mission.

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Patricia J Lucas

Patricia J Lucas

Patricia J Lucas

Principal Researcher, fairer start mission

Patricia joined the fairer start mission as a principal researcher, leading on experimentation and evidence.

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Louise Bazalgette

Louise Bazalgette

Louise Bazalgette

Deputy Director, fairer start mission

Louise works as part of a multi-disciplinary innovation team focused on narrowing the outcome gap for disadvantaged children.

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