From the TUC

73% of the people hit by the benefit cap are children

19 Sep 2014, by in Society & Welfare

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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10 Responses to 73% of the people hit by the benefit cap are children

  1. postkey
    Sep 20th 2014, 9:34 am

    “More than 73 per cent of the people hit by the Benefit Cap are children.”

    “£3.5 Billion Contract Signed for Advanced New Armoured Vehicles”

  2. Nazia
    Sep 22nd 2014, 10:34 am

    It is effecting people with children n is not fair we shud all speak up like Scotland did n stop the benefit cap or with family’s with 4 children or more do it £650 but no dey did £500 wit even children I thought the government listen to our vies but no they don’t n the council don’t help u aswell w

  3. Pat
    Sep 22nd 2014, 11:12 am

    It is effecting people with children n is not fair we shud all speak up like Scotland did n stop the benefit cap or with family’s with 4 children or more do it £650 but no dey did £500 wit even children I thought the government listen to our views but no they don’t n the council don’t help u aswell we shud all speak

  4. Laura Dewar
    Sep 22nd 2014, 4:59 pm

    A lot of the single parents affected by the policy also have very young children. So despite the protection that should be there for parents of pre-school children these parents could be obliged to look for work to try to escape the benefit cap, with a babe in arms. Terrible rumour is that the benefit cap will be lowered further.

  5. James
    Sep 28th 2014, 1:29 pm

    I just think this is plain stupid and highlights the downfall in our society. It’s not the governments that people aren’t spending their money on their children.
    Why should anyone even get more than £12,000 a year for FREE? What right does anyone have to claim that kind of money?
    I work my socks off to get £15k, so why should anyone get given more on benefits?

  6. roger shade
    Sep 28th 2014, 3:50 pm

    To James, If you have children you would receive Child benefits in addition to your earnings and as you are on low pay you may well be entitled to further benefits. Benefits are not just there for people who are unemployed they are also there for the working poor. The problem you highlight when you complain about working your socks off for £15K is that too many individuals are underpaid and receive little more or often less than the living wage. Don’t condemn the unemployed for the problem, in most cases they would be happier working, start looking at what fundamentally the problem with Britain’s economy.

  7. leoni
    Sep 28th 2014, 5:00 pm

    If minimum wage was much higher working people would not need any benefits. And if there was enough jobs to go round people would be out of work claiming benefits. So who is to blame for low wages or no work, certainly not the poor and needy, but yet it seems everyone likes to blame them. A lot of people seem to forget that there is a lot of working people who receive benefits because of the minimum wage.

  8. Who are the Victims of the Chancellor’s Latest Cuts? | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Sep 30th 2014, 2:30 pm

    […] only account for a small proportion of the cuts but fit that narrative very well. (And, as I’ve remarked before, it has the advantage that when we attack these policies we reinforce the popularity of the […]

  9. Robert Wootton
    Oct 14th 2014, 10:32 am

    @Roger Slade. I am one of the low paid working poor. My partner’s children have left school so child benefit ceases. That is one pay cut. We have had no reply from HMRC regarding WTC. Council tax and Housing benefit is cut. This makes you feel like packing up work altogether.

    However, regarding low pay, there should be a ratio; a linkage between the highest and low paid in our society. So when a board of director give themselves a pay rise, they are also giving the lowest paid and everyone in between a pay rise. They are deciding on the increase of the whole wage bill.

    I have no objection to a CEO being paid £3 million pa so long as the person who cleans his/her office gets, as I have advocated, 5% of that, i.e. £150 000 pa. Housing would be affordable for all then. At current prices.

  10. Robert Wootton
    Oct 14th 2014, 10:45 am

    @leoni. It is the economic system as it is presently socially constructed that is to blame for low wages and no work.

    The purpose of a business is to provide goods and service at the lowest price and to make a profit. So businesses shoot themselves in the foot by using the method called “Lean management”. This means, e.g. at Asda where I work, everyone is till/checkout trained. So if queues build up at the checkouts, a call is put out for “queue busters” from other departments to man the checkouts. But because of “lean management”, the bare minimum number of people are working in those other departments. So work does not get done or the people have to work there socks off to make up for lost time to get their own work done. This causes stress and the associated mental health problems that are endemic in our society.

    However, as I have said, the economic system as it is presently constructed, creates these conditions and channels these behaviours.