More than a million children are in families hit by a controversial Government policy limiting some benefits they can claim to two children.
Some 318,000 families, including 1.1 million children, were affected by the two-child limit as of April 2, according to statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.
This is up from around a quarter of a million families and 900,000 children in April 2020.
The UK-wide policy was introduced in April 2017 and restricts the amount of financial support families with at least three children can receive.
It has been widely criticised by MPs and charities.
The figures show that 308,520 households were not receiving the child element of Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit for at least one child because of the policy as of April 2.
Some 14,000 households were in receipt of an exception, mainly due to multiple births.
Other exemptions to the policy include adoption or when a child is born as a result of rape or conceived during a controlling or coercive relationship.
Some 1,330 exceptions were in place on the grounds of conception as a result of non-consensual sex.
Chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), Alison Garnham, said: “Universal credit should be a port in the storm for families but the two-child policy means many are denied the support they need for children, just when they need it most.
“The pandemic has shown us how quickly circumstances can change but this policy limits the life chances of kids by reducing them from a person to a number.
“The only way to prevent more children from being damaged by poverty is for the Government to end the two-child policy.”
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said the policy is now the “main driver of rising child poverty”.
He continued: “Every day, we hear stories from families affected by this policy, who cannot afford to buy clothes or other basic items for their children.
“We don’t think it’s right that these families are not getting the support they need when parents lose their jobs or their relationship breaks down, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said women are being forced to end what would “otherwise be wanted” pregnancies by the “cruel” policy.
Clare Murphy, BPAS chief executive, said: “The policy assumes that couples are always able to neatly plan pregnancies with the use of contraception, and that they can also plan their financial circumstances for the 18 years following the birth of their child.
“Even prior to the pandemic, this was far from the case.
“Especially within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has deepened already-existing inequality and created huge economic uncertainty, the two-child limit forces women and their families into a corner between increasing financial hardship or ending a wanted pregnancy.”
Last week the UK’s highest court rejected a challenge over the limit brought by two single mothers and their children and supported by CPAG.
At a hearing in October last year, a panel of seven Supreme Court justices was asked to decide whether the limit is compatible with human rights laws, including the rights to respect for private and family life, to found a family and to freedom from discrimination, as the policy disproportionately affects women.
Judges dismissed the case, concluding that there is an “objective and reasonable justification” for the policy having a greater impact on women, namely to “protect the economic wellbeing of the country”.
They also concluded that any impact of the policy on children in families with more than one sibling is “justifiable”.
A UK Government spokesman said: “This policy ensures fairness by asking families on benefits to make the same financial decisions as families supporting themselves solely through work.
“We have a comprehensive childcare offer for working parents, and continue to pay child benefit for all children.”