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Needs and entitlements: How UK welfare reform affects larger families

Researchers: Dr Ruth Patrick (Principal Investigator), Lecturer, School for Business and Society, University of York
Co-investigators: Dr Kitty Stewart, Department of Social Policy, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Dr Aaron Reeves, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford
Funder: Nuffield Foundation 
Duration: February 2020 to September 2022    


Larger families have always faced a disproportionate 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 eligibility for child-benefits to two children) are expected to exacerbate this risk even further. These reforms also break with precedent in the social security system by severing the link between assessed need and entitlement to support.  


Despite the significance of these changes, there are important 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 wellbeing. There is some early analysis of these policies but the available evidence is small-scale and incomplete. 


To address these gaps, we will look at large-scale datasets to examine how poverty risks have changed as a result of the two-child limit and benefits cap. We will then track how larger families are coping, following 44 families across two locations, documenting experiences and responses to the changed policy landscape. Finally, we will return to large data to explore impacts on wider wellbeing, including mental health, building on the insights generated from speaking to larger families. 

Policy and practice implications

The project’s timing is critical because the reforms are affecting increasing numbers of families, but have yet to be formally evaluated.
Our findings will inform future policy interventions and enable a better understanding of welfare reform’s impact on larger families.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is the policy partner for this project, which also involves collaborative work with the councils of BradfordGreenwich and Tower Hamlets

Please contact Dr Ruth Patrick for more information.

Associated Research   

COVID-19 and families on a low income

Tracking how families on a low-income navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and how the social security system responds.