The attack on large families
The government’s Benefit Cap will increase poverty and be discriminatory – directly against large families and indirectly against disabled people and some minority ethnic groups.
The Cap on the total level of benefits a family can receive (about £500 a week from 2013) will inevitably hit large families hardest, because families with more children face higher living costs and higher rents.
The number of children that you have is a choice and what we’re saying is that if people are living on benefits then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices.
Mr Hunt seems to base this argument on media stories about a small number of people who have chosen to live on benefits, and have had large numbers of children while on benefits. But the Cap is more likely to hit people who had large families when they were better off and then fell on hard times. Widowed and deserted parents, parents who unexpectedly have twins and couples who both had children when they met are going to be hit by this move.
There is plenty of evidence that large families are especially likely to be poor. The best is a study carried out in 2006 for the DWP by Maria Iacovou and Richard Berthoud. The Economic Position of Large Families found that although families with four or more children only accounted for 5 per cent of all families, 20 per cent of poor children came from large families. They found that
Both lower earnings, and the fact that the tax and benefit system does not fully compensate families for the additional costs of children, contribute to higher poverty rates among large families.
Whether they were in work, the number of hours they could work and the hourly rate they could obtain were important in explaining why large families were poor and the ‘employment trap’ was a significant issue. Unfortunately, “work is not a reliable route out of poverty for low-paid single-earner families.”
Iacovou and Bethoud’s main recommendations focused on increasing the employment opportunities of mothers in these families, not restricting access to benefits. It is very hard to see how cutting their benefits will do anything other than increase the severity of poverty for large families and increase the number of children in poverty.
This research also highlights the risk that the Benefits Cap may be indirectly discriminatory. Firstly, large families are more likely than other families to include a disabled parent. No more than twenty per cent of families with three children or fewer have a parent with a “limiting longstanding illness”, but for families with four children this proportion rises to 24 per cent and for those with five or more children to 36 per cent.
Secondly, the Benefit Cap will fit more tightly round families of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. While only 4½ per cent of all families have four or more dependent children for Pakistani and Bangladeshi families this figure rises to 24 per cent. And that is the snapshot –
As many as half of Pakistani and Bangladeshi families would be large at some time in their parenting period.
Has the government carried out a disability or race equality impact assessment of this policy? I bet I know the answer to that one.