Today the Commons will ‘consider’ the amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill passed by the House of Lords Amendments. They are (courtesy of the Guardian):
- A limit on the planned ‘bedroom tax’ (Brendan Barber signed this letter about this amendment in today’s Guardian);
- Protecting young people’s entitlement to contributory Employment and Support Allowance;
- Doubling the planned 12 month limit on contributory ESA;
- Excluding cancer patients altogether from this limit;
- Reversing the government’s plans to charge lone parents for using the Child Support Agency;
- Last night’s amendment – reversing planned cuts to disabled children’s benefits; and
- Excluding Child Benefit from the “benefit cap”.
These are all humane and necessary amendments. As Sue Marsh has pointed out, disabled people’s and carer’s organisations are united in opposing the Bill and it’s hard to find even individual disabled people who don’t support these amendments. Yesterday, the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland united to express their “deep concerns” at “the serious negative impact of the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill on hundreds of thousands of children.” Shelter, the National Housing Federation, Homeless Link and Crisis have warned that the Bill will increase the number of homeless families. All of these amendments deserve support, but there is some uncertainty about how MPs will vote on the last of the list above – the ‘benefit cap’.
67,000 households will have their benefits reduced by the policy in 2013/14 (this is roughly one per cent of the out-of-work benefit caseload) and 75,000 in 2014/15. Within these households, and in 2013/14, the number of adults affected is 90,000 and the number of children 220,000.
In other words, 71 per cent of the 310,000 individuals affected by this policy will be children.
The DCLG accepts that 20,000 families are likely to become homeless “as a result of the total benefit cap”. The Children’s Society has calculated that, “based on an equal distribution across families affected, this would mean around 27,600 adults and 82,400 children could be made homeless as a result of the cap”. That is, 75 per cent of the 110,000 individuals at risk of homelessness are children.
The average affected family will lose £93 a week; 35 per cent will lose more than £100 per week.
MPs seem to have been influenced by the fact that initial polling is showing public support for the benefit cap. Until now, media coverage has concentrated on contrasts between adults on benefits and adults in low paid jobs. If the focus of discussion shifts to the unfairness of a measure that mainly targets children opinion may well shift.