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How UK welfare reform affects larger families

Researchers: Dr Ruth Patrick | Dr Aaron Reeves ...

Project overview

This project examines how the risk of poverty for larger families has changed as a result of recent benefit reforms, and the effect of these changes on family decision-making and well-being.

Larger families, those with three or more children, have always faced a disproportionate risk of poverty.  The benefits cap (which limits the income a household can receive in benefits out of work) and the two-child limit (which restricts eligibility for child related benefits for the first two children, except where limited exemptions apply) break the link between needs and entitlement in the social security system and disproportionately affect single parent households and certain religious and ethnic groups. Larger families with very young children face significant increases in poverty, which is a particular concern due to the importance of early years for longer-term child outcomes. Set against this context, there is a pressing need to understand the impact of these benefit changes on larger families: the primary objective of this project.

Using a multi-methods approach, this project will seek to answer three questions:

  • How has the profile of poverty been affected by the two-child limit and benefits cap?
  • How are families coping?
  • Has their wider well-being been harmed?
  • Data from the Labour Force Survey, Family Resources Survey, the British Household Panel Study and Understanding Society will be used to describe the risk and depth of poverty among larger families, as well as their geographic, social and ethnic characteristics, and how this has changed over time. A qualitative longitudinal study will be carried out with primary caregivers in 44 affected larger families in London and Bradford, Three waves of interviews will generate early evidence of behavioural changes and develop a dynamic picture over time, through which it will be possible to contrast families’ expectations of how they will cope, with what actually occurs. Innovative quantitative methods will be used to explore the impact of the policies on parental mental health and the self-reported well-being of children in affected families.

    The project also includes participatory elements. The research team will work with members of larger families living in poverty to discuss policy recommendations, and to explore together the data which emerges from the quantitative analyses.

    The findings from this research will enable better understanding of welfare reform’s impact on larger families and contribute to the evidence base on the impact of separating benefit from need, for future social welfare policy. The Child Poverty Action Group will be working with the project team throughout to support policy engagement and the widespread dissemination of findings.


    • Dr Ruth Patrick
      University of York
    • Dr Aaron Reeves
      University of Oxford
    • Dr Kitty Stewart
      London School of Economics and Political Science
    • Josie Tucker
      Child Poverty Action Group

    • Alex Beer
      Senior Consultant, Welfare
      Nuffield Foundation

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