The annual benefits cap – Diane Abbot’s speech to Parliament.

Any member of the public watching this debate this afternoon and listening to people jeer, laugh, smirk and joke might imagine that some Members of this House were playing a game. Well, I am rising to say to the House that this is not a game; this is about people’s lives.
Whether they be elderly people who are dependent on some of the age-related benefits that will fall under the cap, the disabled or people in low-paid work who depend on the system of tax credits, this is not a game; this is people’s lives. If it is really the position of Government Members that poor people should be made to live on even less, they should at least have the grace to be dignified about it, and not turn it into a game.
I put it to Government Members and to those on my own Front Bench that social security and people’s lives should not be made a matter of short-term political positioning.
Everyone in the House wants to bring down welfare spending, because welfare spending is the price of Government and social failure. The Chancellor talked as if he were some brave warrior wreaking vengeance on an army of “Benefits Street” layabouts. The reality for British people is very different.
Just this week, we saw 1,500 people queuing for three hours for a low-paid job at Aldi. The picture Government Members like to paint of the British people and what is happening in the benefit system is false, misleading and derogatory, yet it is feeding through to public attitudes.
The public thinks that 41% of the benefits bill goes to the unemployed. In fact, it is only 3% of the benefits bill. The public thinks that 27% of benefits are claimed fraudulently. In fact, only 0.7% is so claimed. The truth is that 80% of the people who claim jobseekers allowance—those so-called “Benefits Street” layabouts—only claim it for less than a year.
There is no credit to MPs if they constantly talk in a derogatory way about people who claim benefits when, at any given point in our lives, we may be dependent on social security—be it child benefit, benefits for the elderly or in-work benefits.
This benefits cap is arbitrary and bears no relationship to need, as our benefits system should. It does not allow for changing circumstances—rents going up and population rising—and will make inequality harder to tackle.
There are ways to cut welfare. We could put people back to work, introduce a national living wage, build affordable homes and have our compulsory jobs guarantee. An arbitrary cap is the wrong way in which to go and sends out the wrong message.
The Chancellor does not say many things that I think are correct, but he is correct to say that voting for this cap locks us into the coalition’s cuts. I say to the House that the issue of social security should not be about political positioning.
As the months turn into years, people will be coming to our advice surgeries wanting explanations for totally arbitrary and counter-productive cuts. Will we say that it was a game we were playing with the Chancellor one afternoon in March?
Our welfare system should be based on the facts and on need. Whatever short-term political advantage people think is gained by voting for this cap, it is far outweighed by what is problematic, so, no, I will not be voting for this cap in the Lobby tonight.


Judicial review of benefit caps reaches High Court

Three children and their mothers will challenge the government’s ‘irrational and discriminatory’ benefit caps in the High Court today.

The lone parent families are bringing a judicial review against work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Under the policy, which completed its nationwide roll-out this week, the government has capped total household benefits at £500 a week for couples and lone parents, and £350 a week for single adults.

Two of the families say they will have less to live on than the minimum support given to failed asylum seekers once their benefits are capped.

The benefit cap has not yet been applied to two of the families, although it is set to hit one imminently, and will be applied to another in November.

The third family have had their benefits capped, and have been granted discretionary housing payment for 13 weeks from September.

All of the claimants’ children are under five years old.

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine Solicitors, who is acting for the claimants, said: ‘All of these families face the chilling prospect of having to decide whether to pay their rent or feed their children.

‘Many other families, like these claimants, will be left with so little money that they cannot survive.

‘The outcome of this case is therefore critically important for these claimants, for others like them, for private and social sector landlords and for local authority housing and social services departments who will inevitably have to pick up some of the pieces as parents are left unable to provide necessities for their children and pay their rent.’

The judicial review, which will run until Friday, claims the benefit cap is discriminatory, breaches of human rights legislation and is irrational.

A DWP spokesperson said:  ‘We are confident that the benefit cap measures are lawful.  The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.’

by Pete Apps in ‘Inside HOusing, 2nd October 2013:

Benefit cap sees single mother’s housing benefit cut to 50p


A single mother living in Tottenham , who wants to be anonymous, with all the hard work of rearing seven children but not in paid work, has had her housing benefit reduced to 50 pence a week by the Government’s £500 overall benefit cap.

Tottenham is in the Borough of Haringey, which is a test-bed for that cap. The 50 pence housing benefit will be swallowed by 20% of the council tax, or £5.10 a week on band C, imposed by the Haringey council.

Her benefit income net of rent and council tax was £537.78 a week plus £245 housing benefit. The £500 cap with the council tax wipes out the housing benefit and leaves her with £277.68 to pay for food, fuel, clothing, transport and other necessities.

Her income net of council tax and rent both before and after the £500 cap are far below the level needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Donald Hirsch, Director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, who leads work on Minimum Income Standards (MIS) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has estimated that the cost, net of rent and council tax, for a lone parent with three children is £458 in April 2013.

He then uses MIS to estimate that a lone parent with seven children requires at least £702 a week after rent and council tax to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living, of which the cost of food alone is £211.

£211 a week for needed by a single mother with seven children to have a healthy diet, will inevitably be reduced by the cost of fuel, clothes for seven growing children, transport and other necessities. Their health was already at risk before the cap.

The methodology used by Loughborough since 2010 includes researching the weekly cost in a supermarket of a nutritious diet based on scientific evidence, and checking the figures against what members of the public think is reasonable. It has never been challenged by government.

British governments have never based the level of statutory minimum incomes on the minimum quantities and prices in the market of the necessities needed for healthy living by individuals, families or pensioners, unlike some other developed nations.

The mother in this case has applied for a discretionary housing payment but that is temporary and only creates uncertainty for the family; uncertainty and insecurity are known to upset the children and their education.

Where this family will be housed is just as worrying. There are very few affordable properties for large families; so greater overcrowding than she experiences now in a hotel for bed and breakfast is a likely outcome.

The national economy is in trouble but there is enough wealth in the UK to fix it without retrospective legislation which hits innocent women and children so viciously.

From ‘ Taxpayers against Poverty’ 9th June 2013: