Churches condemn 'damaging' benefit cap

By agency reporter
November 4, 2016

Government statistics on the Benefit Cap released on 3 November 2016 have revealed that over a quarter of a million children have been affected by the Cap since it was introduced in April 2013. Additionally, the majority of families affected were accepted as not being able to work due to illness, disability or caring responsibilities.

The Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church have spoken out against the Benefit Cap.Speaking on behalf of the joint Churches, Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser said: "It is clear that the Benefit Cap overwhelmingly targets children –19 out of every 20 families whose benefits had been capped have children." 
 

The current Benefit Cap – the limit on the total amount of benefits a family can receive – is set at £26,000 per year. For a family to need such high levels of benefit they tend to live in a region where high rents drive up the Housing Benefit bill. Currently around half of capped households are in London.

From Monday 7 November 2016, the Benefit Cap will be reduced to £23,000 in London and £20,000 for the rest of the UK. This will increase the number of families affected and spread the impact of the cap more widely throughout the UK. For a single person the new Cap is set at £15,410 inside London and £13,400 outside.

Paul Morrison said: "The lower Benefit Cap could be disastrous for tens of thousands more children throughout the country. We know, from our experience on the ground and the Government's own research, that the Benefit Cap drives people into rent arrears, debt and hunger."
 

The statistics revealed that only 14 per cent of families capped were unemployed and claiming Jobseekers Allowance. The same number of families received benefit because they were assessed as being unable to work due to illness or disability; others are unable to work due to caring responsibilities for children or disabled adults.

The Government claims that the Benefit Cap is designed to get people into work, but it also acknowledges that most families affected have illness or caring responsibilities that prevent them from working. 

Paul added: "Over 2,000 single parents with babies under a year of age had their Housing Benefit cut because of the cap each month. Does the Government seriously expect that cutting Housing Benefit will make it easier for them to find work? 

It cannot be morally acceptable to leave children without enough to live on in order to pressurise their parents into work. This is doubly true if those parents have no prospect of moving into work because they are sick or caring for family members." 

In November 2015 a coalition of Churches published the report  Enough, supporting the principle families should have enough to live on. The report argued that benefits should be set at a level that meets a family's basic needs and should not be eroded by the Benefit Cap or the two-child rule introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2016.

YouGov survey commissioned by the Churches revealed that 61 per cent of UK adults believe that welfare benefits should be set at a level that allows families with children to cover their basic costs.

* Read the report Enough here

Joint Public Issues Team http://www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/

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