New figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal 94% of households hit by the controversial benefit cap include at least one child, with more than half of those affected being a single parent with a child aged 0-4 years old.
In total, 60% of all households hit by the benefit cap had between 1 and 4 children, while 35% had 5 or more children.
The benefit cap limits the total amount a household can receive in social security benefits, including child tax credit and housing benefit, to no more than £26,000 per annum. But from 7 November this year the government will begin a national roll-out of a new lower cap, reducing the amount to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK.
Most of those affected by the new lower cap live in high-cost areas, such as an estimated 9,000 families living in London and 2,000 living in the South East, and it will have a bigger impact on larger families. Since the introduction of the benefit cap to August 2016, 44% of capped households have been in London.
Overall, analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing shows the new lower benefit cap will impact on 116,000 households with between one and four children, around ten times more than the current number.
The charity Gingerbread says the new lower cap will be particularly painful for single parents, who already find it more difficult to escape the cap by moving into work, due to shortages in affordable childcare and suitable employment. The charity argues the lower cap will put these families at greater risk of homelessness and poverty.
Gingerbread has found that 43,700 single parents with a child aged under 5 will be hit by the lower cap and 29,400 of these families have a child aged 0-2, with those affected facing an average shortfall of £60 a week in rent.
Single parents caring for a baby or toddler will account for 35% of all households to be hit by the new, lowered benefit cap.
The government has admitted single parents with pre-school children were less likely to move into work as a result of the lower cap. Gingerbread say those parents will not be eligible for the same back to work support as other jobseekers, adding the government has no plan for ongoing employment support.
Gingerbread Policy Officer Laura Dewar said: “The new benefit cap is likely to drive more single parents into poverty. Many will have to choose between the roof over their children’s heads and other essentials such as food and heating.
“Parents tell us they are doing all they can to find work, but all too often jobs and available childcare just don’t match up – single parents with toddlers can’t simply work a night shift or at weekends.
“Those set to be hit by the cap are calling Gingerbread panic-stricken, desperate to find a way to protect their children.
“For all the government’s talk about work incentives, it has nothing to say on the families who can’t find work and the devastating impact it will have on children who face losing their homes or being pushed in poverty.”
A single parent from Swansea with three children, the youngest of which is two years old, telephoned our helpline very distressed and anxious that she will lose her family home. She has received the letter from the DWP to inform her that as a result of the benefit cap, her benefits will be reduced by £50 a week from November. She has been trying to find a job but it has been hard to find work that also fits with her caring responsibilities. She is also worried how she would pay for the upfront childcare costs if she does find work.
A single parent from Oxfordshire contacted Gingerbread very worried about the impact of the benefit cap on her family. She is divorced and has three children, including a two year old. She is set to lose £126 a week from November. She is keen to move into work and is already training to be a childminder. Under wider welfare rules she would be allowed to complete this training which finishes in March. The benefit cap is putting pressure on her to move into work as quickly as possible.
*Case studies provided by Gingerbread.