Campaigners have lost their legal challenge to the government’s two-child limit on welfare payments.
They had argued the policy breached parents’ and children’s human rights. The Supreme Court dismissed their case.
The rule, which came into force in April 2017, restricts child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children in a family, with a few exceptions.
It was one of George Osborne’s most debated austerity measures.
The policy has affected families of about one million children. Campaigners described the decision as “hugely disappointing”.
The case was brought by two lone mothers and their children, supported by the Child Poverty Action Group. The court ruled they should not be identified.
One had health problems and was in low-paid work. The other fell pregnant while on the pill. Both had children born after April 2017 and so were affected financially by the policy.
They said the two-child policy was incompatible with human rights laws. Their argument was rejected in the lower courts.
Seven justices at the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – unanimously dismissed their appeal against the earlier rulings.
Campaigners argued the rules unlawfully discriminated against different groups including children, large families, women, and those with a religious or moral objection to the use of birth control.
Lawyers representing two families who brought the legal challenge argued that the limit would cause “deep and inescapable child poverty” and “fails to recognise children as deserving of social protection in their own right”.
However, the government had always argued that the policy aimed to ensure that welfare spending was sustainable and fair to the taxpayer while protecting the most vulnerable.
Supreme Court President Lord Reed, giving the judgement, said the policy pursued a legitimate aim to protect the economic wellbeing of the country.
He added that while the policy had a disproportionate impact on women, Parliament had decided that was outweighed by the importance of its aim – something which the justices had no basis to properly take a different view.
He said the justices rejected the argument that the two-child limit was intended to discourage women in receipt of the benefits from having more than two children and so violated their right to respect for their private and family life.
Carla Clarke, head of strategic litigation at Child Poverty Action Group, which represented the mothers and children, said: “This is a hugely disappointing judgment which fails to give any meaningful recognition to the reality of the policy on the ground and its desperately unfair impact on children.”
She said they were considering whether to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.