Jobcentre Plus sign.

The Government’s controversial benefit cap, which limits the amount a household can receive in state support, is unfairly and crudely penalising people who are too ill to work or are not expected to look for employment, an influential group of MPs has said today (Tuesday).

The Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) found that 82% of households who are currently affected by the Benefit Cap “simply cannot escape it”, due to poor health or other circumstances.

In it’s new report, the WPC points out that only 18% of capped households have been assessed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as being capable and expected to look for work.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0]

The shocking findings have led to calls for the DWP to exempt anyone who isn’t expected to look for work from the cap, which was first introduced in 2013 and is currently set at £23,000 in London and £20,000 outside of London.

The Committee also warned that “the cap will cut more deeply under Universal Credit, where it can eat into all of a household’s income (not just housing costs as in the existing system), including into money meant for children or people currently too ill to look for work”.

When the cap was first introduced, the Government claimed it would help to “incentivise” unemployed people into finding a job and build greater fairness between people on out-of-work benefits and “those who pay for it”.

However, the Committee found that for every 100 households affected by the cap only around 5 have moved into work because of it.

“Few of these claimants will be comforted by the Minister’s flippant suggestions (in evidence to the Committee) that they simply move house, renegotiate their rent or even take in a lodger,”the Committee said.

“In reality, they are left with no way to escape the cap …. A policy aimed at people who could work but were choosing not to is now being applied to single mothers with newborn babies and people with serious health conditions.”

They also accussed the DWP of “over-claiming the employment benefit of the cap”, highlighting how the UK’s Statistics Authority had cautioned the Government over its use of data and statistics to justify the cap.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “It would be difficult to think of a more cruel cut.

“Benefits are being cut with the aim of driving people into work, but four in five people bearing this cut aren’t expected to work. What genius in government thought this one up?”

Heidi Allen MP. Photo: UK Parliament (cropped).

Heidi Allen MP (pictured above), who sits on the Committee and recently resigned from the Conservative Party to join ‘The Independent Group’, whilst also citing concerns over the Government’s welfare policies, added:

“All Government policy must be based on evidence, yet there is scarce evidence to suggest the cap is moving people into work – not least because 82% of those affected by the cap are not in any case expected to work because of health or caring responsibilities.

“This cap and the benefits freeze are outdated policies, not taking into account the increased cost of living since their inception.

“Bluntly, the Government doesn’t have the objective or moral grounds on which to maintain its position.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The benefit cap restores fairness so that it pays to work and still ensures there’s a safety net for the most vulnerable.

“People receiving certain disability benefits are already exempt from the cap.”