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TOPIC: The benefit cap unfairly hits people who are unable to work

The benefit cap unfairly hits people who are unable to work 30 Dec 2018 09:23 #12475

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The benefit cap unfairly hits people who are unable to work
As MPs reopen their enquiry into the benefit cap, Z2K Policy Director Marc Francis outlines the injustices of the cap and why we’re arguing for change

Marc Francis, Policy Director

Zacchaeus 2000 has long campaigned against the Government’s Benefit Cap and so we were delighted to see that the Work & Pensions Select Committee has reopened its inquiry into this issue. The original inquiry fell when Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap General Election back in May 2017, and with several new members on the committee, other issues have come to the fore. We were beginning to worry it had fallen off the agenda completely and so it’s great that this will now be the focus of the committee’s work this autumn.

Z2K is opposed to the Benefit Cap on a point of principle. We believe people should get the benefits they are entitled to, and not have those restricted by an artificial cap set according to the whims of well-healed ministers. Despite all the claims to the contrary, we saw the original £500 a week cap forcing low-income families to make a choice between paying shortfalls in their rent or putting food on the table and turning on the heating. Inevitably, many of those families fell into rent arrears, were evicted and made homeless. Lowering the cap has made that even worse.

No doubt the cap’s supporters will argue this is the unfortunate consequence of the choices those families make. Their rhetoric is all about encouraging people back into work – end of story. And DWP’s press releases constantly crow about the numbers of households who were capped who are now in work. The most recent quarterly statistics show that around 49,000 of the 130,000 who are no longer capped are now working enough hours to claim tax credits.

This figure sounds impressive. But as the IFS has shown, the vast majority of those would have moved back into work in any case. The cap itself has had just a 4.7 per cent impact in terms of getting affected households into work. Successive ministers have refused to engage meaningfully with this fact. For example, when asked about the IFS figure by the committee back in November 2016, the former Secretary of State said, “As I remember the IFS line, they said that was something slightly more complex, that that 5% was not just about those who had got into work, it was the difference.” The Permanent Secretary then added, “I think they were looking at some rates of change of something. I cannot quite remember what it is.”

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