More than one and a half million children across the UK are affected by the two-child limit on benefits, figures show as the Work and Pensions Secretary branded child poverty a “stain on our society”.

The latest statistics, which are a rise of 100,000 in a year, have prompted renewed calls for the policy to be scrapped – something Labour has not committed to.

Figures published on Thursday by the Department for Work and Pensions showed there were 1.6 million children living in households affected by the policy as of April this year, up from 1.5 million to April 2023.

Of these, 52% of children were in households with three children, 29% in households with four children, and 19% are in households with five or more children.

Last month, before becoming Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer said he would ditch the two-child limit “in an ideal world” but added that “we haven’t got the resources to do it at the moment”.

Children’s charities have now made fresh pleas to end the policy, which was introduced in 2017 and restricts Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit to the first two children in most households.

The Church of England has backed the call, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby having previously branded the policy “cruel” and one which is “neither moral nor necessary”.

Thursday’s figures showed there were some 440,000 households in receipt of either Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit who were not receiving the child element or amount for at least one child because of the policy, up from 409,050 as of April 2023.

The Resolution Foundation has calculated that abolishing the two-child limit would cost the Government somewhere between £2.5 billion and £3.6 billion in 2024/25 but said such costs are “low compared to the harm that the policy causes”.

In its briefing in January, it said scrapping the two-child limit “would be one of the most efficient ways to drive down child poverty rates”, estimating that if abolished at that point, 490,000 children would have been lifted out of poverty.

Following publication of the latest statistics, Work and Pensions Secretary Liz Kendall, said: “Too many children are growing up in poverty and this is a stain on our society.

“We will work to give every child the best start in life by delivering our manifesto commitment to implement an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty.

“I will hold critical meetings with charities and experts next week to get this urgent work under way.”

The figures come as the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said its survey of 560 families hit by the policy reveals “the deep suffering and deprivation it’s causing”.

Almost all of them (93%) said the policy had affected their ability to pay for food, while 82% said it meant they struggle to cover gas or electricity bills.

Almost half (45%) of respondents said they struggled to pay their rent or mortgage because of the policy while (46%) told of struggles to manage childcare costs.

CPAG has called on the Prime Minister to “send a clear signal” in next week’s King’s Speech that the two-child limit will be abolished this year.

Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “Children are losing their life chances to the two-child limit now – they can’t wait for the new Government to align every star before the policy is scrapped.

“The PM came to office pledging a bold, ambitious child poverty-reduction plan and there’s no way to deliver on that promise without scrapping the two-child limit, and fast.”

Reverend Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester, said: “The testimonies in this report remind us that the two-child limit continues to affect the wellbeing and life chances of too many children and families in this country.

“Abolishing this unfair policy is essential if we are to turn the tide on poverty and ensure that every child is supported to flourish in all areas of life.”

The CPAG research heard from a single parent-of-four who is in full-time work and said one of their children, who had been on court to play for the under-14’s England netball team, had to drop out because “I just couldn’t pay monthly fees and take them to training and games”.

Another single parent in part-time work told how they “had to find work and leave my baby at four-months-old” while a couple in part-time work said the policy had “severely inhibited the children’s ability to experience a full life” telling of “shoes with holes, clothes too small”.