The chief executives of 23 major British charities say the government must make sure increases in benefit rates at least reflect rises in the cost of living.
The coalition's proposed benefits rise cap is plain wrong, they say, in terms of the impact it will have on the most vulnerable.
In an open letter published in The Observer newspaper yesterday (6 January 2012), the charity heads write: "If introduced, this hardship penalty will hurt millions of families across the country – families already struggling to pay for food, fuel, rent and other basics."
The full letter reads:
"On Tuesday [8 January 2012], MPs will debate the introduction of a 1% cap on benefit and tax credit increases under the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. If introduced, this hardship penalty will hurt millions of families across the country – families already struggling to pay for food, fuel, rent and other basics.
"Many thousands have turned to food banks for help. Nearly half of teachers say they often see children going hungry. Shockingly, 6 million households struggle to afford to heat their homes.
"As the costs of fuel, food and housing rise again, we can expect to see these problems become even more severe and widespread.
"This hardship penalty comes on top of freezes to child benefit and working tax credit, and cuts to housing benefit and council tax benefit. As a result of the 1% cap, a single-parent primary school teacher or a nurse with two children stands to lose £424 a year by 2015. An army second lieutenant with three children could lose £552 a year. If they are in private rented housing or if prices rise faster than expected, the loss is likely to be even greater.
"The government must make sure that increases in benefit rates at the very least reflect rises in the cost of living. Otherwise, this toll will deepen inequality and increase poverty."
Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children's Society
Gillian Guy Chief executive, Citizens Advice
Anne Marie Carrie Chief executive, Barnardo's
Geraldine Blake, CEO, Community Links
Srabani Sen, CEO, Contact a Family
Anand Shukla, CEO, The Family and Parenting Institute and Daycare Trust
Frances O'Grady, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress.
John McDonald, Director, Family Holiday Association
Hilary Pannack, CEO, Straight Talking Peer Education
Diane Elson, chair, Women's Budget Group
Keith Reed, CEO,Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba)
Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive, 4Children
Liz Sayce, CEO, Disability Rights UK
Nicki Norman Deputy Chief Executive, Women's Aid
Irene Audain CEO, The Scottish Out of School Care Network
Chris Johnes, Director UK Poverty Programme, Oxfam
Fiona Weir, CEO, Gingerbread
Enver Solomon, Chair, End Child Poverty
Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link
Steve Winyard, Head of Policy and Campaigns, RNIB
Stephen Fisher, Chair of Trustees, RSI Action
Mark Atkinson, Director of Policy, Ambitious about Autism