Child poverty campaigners have reacted angrily to new Government figures revealing a substantial rise in the number of families sucked into the “cruel” Tory benefit cap.
Statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Thursday show the number of UK households hit by the cap since it was lowered in 2016 has skyrocketed by a shocking 214%, with single parents among the worst affected.
The benefit cap, which limits the total amount a household can receive in state support and includes the majority of state benefits, was reduced in November 2016 to £23,000 per year in London (£15,410 for single people) and £20,000 per year (£13,400 for single people) in the rest of the UK.
Half of capped households have lost up to £50 per week and the number of families capped by £50 to £100 has increased from 25% (5,100) in August 2016 to 33% (22,000) in May 2017.
The policy has proven to be popular among the general public, with the government selling the false narative that it encourages the unemployed to look for employment. A recent survey, however, suggests that previously hardened attitudes toward benefit claimants appear to be softening.
But campaigners and charities say the cap has been “mis-sold” to voters because the majority of those affected are either single parents with very young children, or those who have been accepted by the DWP as too sick or disabled to look for work.
Before the benefit cap was lowered last year, 40% of capped households lived in London. This has since fallen to just 23% of all capped households, meaning that more families from other towns and cities have been sucked into the cap.
The statistics show that the majority of those affected are lone parents with very young children. A whopping 78% of single parents affected have at least one child under five, while 35% have a child under 2 and are not expected to look for work. Single parents who are expected to look for work also face rising childcare costs and other barriers.
The cap is also more likely to affect three-child families (41% of those capped) than families with five or more children.
Only 17% (one in six) of capped households were claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and in a real position to look for work, which is contrary to the message being sold to voters that the unemployed are the main target.
Imran Hussain, Director of Policy, Rights & Advocacy at the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) charity, said: “The benefit cap is a cruel policy that’s been mis-sold to the public. Ministers say the benefit cap is about getting the unemployed into work, but their own figures show only 17 per cent of households hit by it are in that position.
“The vast majority of households made poorer by the benefit cap are led by adults whom the rest of the benefits system accepts cannot work because they are lone parents, often with very young children, or cannot work due to illness or disability.
“The cap may be impoverishing more and more young families, and putting parents who the DWP knows can’t work through untold stress, but it isn’t helping people into work.
“We already know the impact on work incentives of the cap is relatively small. The government’s own evaluation showed about 16 per cent of people moved into work shortly after being capped and that 11 per cent of people would have moved into work anyway.
“Today’s figures underline this by showing that as children get older, fewer parents are capped, suggesting that parents are already highly motivated to work, but often it’s just not feasible with pre-school kids
“This is a huge increase in the number of families sucked into the scope of the cap. Families affected have their incomes cut dramatically yet most can’t just take a job to escape the cap. Nor, in most cases, can they just up sticks to cheaper accommodation because more often than not there isn’t any.
“And there is only so much families can cut back. In a recent case relating to lone parents with under two year olds the High Court ruled that the cap is unlawful and causes “…real misery …to no good purpose”. The same case can be made for lone parents with older children.
“The time for discontinuing the policy has now come.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, said: “Today’s figures highlight the worrying impact the benefit cap is having on families across the country, with 68,000 affected by the new lower cap level, a sharp increase.
“Child poverty is also increasing. Last month the High Court ruled that the cap was “unlawful” for lone parents with young children, with the judge commenting that the cap was causing “real misery to no good purpose.
“Clearly, this Government’s decision to cut families’ incomes does not amount to supporting them into work, especially given their total failure to provide adequate affordable childcare. It is time that we urgently reviewed the Benefit Cap’s impact and effectiveness.
“Rather than penalising children for its failed austerity plans, the Government should instead undertake the task of supporting people into work, tackling the high cost of housing, improving pay and investing in childcare.”