The social security budget cap and social justice

By Savi Hensman
March 19, 2014

Budget measures announced by UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne include a cap on the overall amount spent on a range of social security measures. People who become severely ill or injured, or face other unexpected needs, may find their already low standard of living forced down, regardless of how much they have contributed to society.

Osborne announced a cap on ‘welfare’ bills of £119 billion in 2015-16, rising with inflation, to be voted on by parliament the week after the budget. This would set a limit on overall payments on social security except for “the State Pension and the cyclical unemployment benefits”. In future, the government will not be allowed to exceed the cap without parliamentary approval.

“Britain should always be proud of having a welfare system that helps those most in need,” he said. “But never again should we allow its costs to spiral out of control and its incentives to become so distorted that it pays not to work.”

However many of the types of social security payment affected can be paid to people in as well as out of work, such as personal independence payment and child benefit, or are targeted at working households, for instance statutory maternity pay. Nor is living on carer’s allowance of £59.75 a week while providing round-the-clock care a luxurious lifestyle.

The benefit cap helps to reinforce the notion that people on ‘welfare’ are ‘skivers’ and ‘scroungers’, undermining the principle of social security. Even if someone has paid national insurance and other taxes for decades, if badly injured in an accident or desperately ill with cancer, any help he or she gets is treated as a favour, so that payment can be arbitrarily reduced or withheld.

Once the cap is in place, it can be lowered at the whim of the powerful. Meanwhile tax cuts are lavished on rich individuals and large corporations and tax loopholes kept open. This is profoundly unjust.

“Today’s Budget tries to lock-in austerity for millions of low-paid families, poor children, carers and disabled people. Announcing a cap for social security spending without a plan to address the root causes of low pay, high rents and high childcare costs, simply forces the most vulnerable in society to pay the price for inaction,” commented Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group.

She added, “It is action on living wages, fair rents, affordable childcare and fairer taxes that will help children in low-income families and taxpayers in the long run.”

* Ekklesia's 2014 Budget coverage:

* On Twitter, follow the hashtag: #Budget2014


© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.