73% of the people hit by the benefit cap are children
The Benefit Cap is – if you don’t suffer from any scruples about kicking the weakest and most vulnerable people in Britain – a brilliant use of the governmental driving seat to undermine your opponents.
The Benefit Cap is a limit to the amount of benefit you can get, regardless of your level of need – for most families it stands at £500 a week. Until you start thinking about all the extra needs a family might have this sounds like a lot, and the policy is tremendously popular.
But who is worst affected by the Benefit Cap? If we concentrate on the adults, the answer is pretty simple: according to the latest DWP statistics, 59 per cent of the households hit by this policy are lone parents and their children. That is a pretty bad thing for a government supposedly committed to trying to end child poverty, as we know from the Households Below Average Income statistics that children in lone parent households are substantially more likely to be poor than children in couple families (22 per cent risk, compared with 16 per cent).
The statistics also show that large families are especially likely to be hit by the Benefit Cap: more than a third of affected families have five or more children. This inevitably exacerbates child poverty as families with more children are more likely to be poor: the Households Below Average Income statistics show that families with three or more children are more likely to be poor (22 per cent) than families with one or two children (16 per cent).
But it is even worse when you look at the individuals hit by the cap, whatever age they are: more than 73 per cent of the individuals hit by the cap are children.
Now, the government statistics don’t reveal this directly, you have to calculate it from the figures they do give:
The 27,019 households capped in May 2014 include:
- 1,305 single adults with no dependent children
- 22 couples with no dependent children
- 16,004 single adults with dependent children
- 9,680 couples with dependent children
Which gives us 36,713 adults.
Categorised by number of children, the 27,019 capped households include:
- 1,331 with no children (just 4.9 per cent)
- 960 with one child
- 2,815 with two children
- 5,317 with three children
- 6,812 with four children
- 9,778 with five or more children
Which gives us at least 98,679 children, 72.9 per cent of the 135,392 individuals. This figure does not include the children in families with more than five children, so we can be confident that more than 73 per cent of those affected are children.
Now, why do I say that, if you ignore the ethical dimension, this is a clever policy? The fact is, that the arguments I’ve just outlined rarely get through and it remains the case that this is a popular policy. To the extent that people believe that the Benefit Cap characterises the social security cuts, those cuts will be popular. But the fact is, the Benefit Cap is not a typical social security cut: as research for the TUC by Howard Reed revealed, of £30.5 billion to be cut from benefit and tax credit spending by 2016/17, the Benefit Cap accounts for no more than £500 million (and this estimate is on the high side, it assumes that it affects 65,000 households, not 27,000).
Benefit cuts actually target two of the groups the government claims to help: pensioners and low-paid working families:
- 58.7 per cent of the cuts hit working age families who are in work
- 20.4 per cent hit workless working age families
- 20.9 per cent hit pensioners
Earlier this year, we produced a list of 43 benefit cuts, three quarters of which hit working people. What would you do if you wanted to draw attention away from the cuts to benefits for popular groups, and convince people that the cuts were mainly hurting unpopular groups (like say, non-working lone parents or minority ethnic groups with large families)?
You’d talk up the Benefit Cap for all it’s worth.
And here’s where the clever part comes in. If you can get your opponents to talk about it, that’s even more effective. When we complain about the Benefit Cap, we may feel better, but, if the outside world hears us, what it does is it reminds people why they like the government’s benefit cuts, and this comes from the most persuasive source of all: the government’s opponents.
And the really clever part is that we can’t bear to not talk about the Benefit Cap. We don’t have the moral by-pass that would allow us to ignore the fact that this is a policy that makes life worse for the very poorest families (they qualify for high benefits because their needs are so high). We can’t know about a policy where three quarters of the victims are children and not talk about why it should be repealed.
I think the chink in the armour (or Achilles heel – choose your cliché) is the impact on children. I can’t believe that most people who support this policy think about the children at all. If we emphasise this point whenever we say anything about the Benefit Cap, we may be able to make some progress.
More than 73 per cent of the people hit by the Benefit Cap are children.
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Saving Our Safety Net is a new campaign from the TUC that aims to defend a decent welfare system that provides help to those who need it, when they need it. You can find out more at the www.savingoursafetynet.org