Capping welfare or capping wellbeing?

Itbenefitcap.png large‘s the election time. As it’s customary for the species in that time, politicians of all options and parties try to prove how much they and how little their opponents do for the benefit of the country. Even I, hidden nicely in the impenetrable wilderness of Kent, have recently been disturbed by the Conservative propaganda election pamphlet. One could think it ended up on my doorstep by accident if not for my name and address clearly visible on the front page; I must admit I am quite curious which of the suspicious ways they used to obtain it. Tempted by the promise that they WILL secure Britain’s future should I only decide to cast my vote in their favour, I opened the leaflet.

There are a few interesting points to make (e.g. did you know that you are going to get an in or out referendum on EU if you choose Tories for your next government?! Haven’t heard about that one…), but today I want to focus on something that I found in their ‘what we’ve done’ section:

‘Cap Welfare: So we’ve capped welfare – no out-of-work household can now claim more than the average family earns in work’.

Due to my innate kindness I will skip an ironic comment about their syntax and move on to more important issues. Do you see what they did there? Somehow people who are out of work did not make it to the category of family and became a dehumanised ‘household’. This becomes even more shocking (for the readers of the Sun) or imprecise (for everyone else) when I tell you who is actually affected by the welfare cap. It’s the CHILDREN – now that I have your attention I can move on to explain why they and only they are affected. The benefit cap is set at the following level – £500 for couples with or without children and for single adults with children, and £350 for single adults. For the sake of integrity I should also say that if any member of the household receives DLA or PIP (or a number of other less popular benefits; for the full list see ) the entire household is exempt from the cap.

Now the fun part – calculations. Let’s assume we have the stereotypical representation of the out-of-work household – a single person on jobseekers allowance claiming the housing benefit. JSA for long term unemployed comes to 72.4 a week. That leaves about 280 per week for the housing benefit. That should be enough to rent one bedroom flat in private rented sector everywhere apart from some areas of London. Things change when consider a family and a family with many children in particular. If both parents are out of work and claim jobseeker allowance that gets them 113.70 a week; if they receive employment and support allowance it may go up to about 240 per week. Then there is the child benefit – if we assume they have 3 children qualifying for the benefit they are going to get additional £47/week. And there is the child tax credit which can vary – up to £52 per child per week. Let’s assume they get an average of £25 per child – that gives them another £75. What we have now is a total of £235.7. So if the benefit cap is set at £500 and the benefits for living costs take £235.7 out of it then there is only 264.3 per week left for the family with three children to rent a property. Yes, I believe that’s quite enough for a three bedroom flat in most regions of the country, but it’s almost impossible in London. And then there are families with even more children than three, and they still have to manage with £500 per week. Again, for the sake of integrity, I should add that there is also social housing – with rents set at about 40% of the market price, and it is accessible to people who receive benefits. The problem is that there are simply not enough of these properties. Boroughs such as Lambeth or Southwark have as many as 20 000 people on their waiting lists. The bigger property you’re looking for the longer you’ll have to wait, and it’s possible you will not get it at all.

What I wanted to show is that the benefit cap looks very nice on the paper – it should prevent people out of work from claiming more than the average person can earn. However, it’s calculated in a way which affects almost solely families with many children, which leads me to quite an obvious conclusion that it affects almost solely children. For some families it means having to move away – families in London affected by the benefit cap are advised to move outside of the city to somewhere where the prices of properties are significantly lower. For those who decide to stay, it means living in poverty.

Capping welfare does not really mean we live in more just society; it penalises solely bigger families. It pushes more children into precarious living conditions. Is that really something to be proud of?


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