Churches say benefits cap will hit children hardest

  • Number of Scottish families hit by capping benefits could increase by more than 10-fold
  • New UK Government statistics for the UK show that 19 out of 20 families affected have children.
  • Four Churches[1] representing more than 800,000 people across the UK say the lower limit is indefensible
Rev Dr Richard Frazer

The new cap on benefits set to be introduced next week will lead to a ten-fold increase in the number of Scottish families having their benefits limited over the next 4 years. It is estimated more than 11,000 families across Scotland will have their benefits capped by 2020.

Today’s UK Government statistics reveal children are most affected by the benefits cap being imposed, with 19 out of 20 families hit containing young dependents. The majority of the families affected are not able to work due to illness, disability or caring responsibilities according to the Government’s own rigorous tests.

The Church of Scotland, the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church believe the new benefit cap is manifestly unfair.

The benefit cap is the limit placed on the total amount of benefits a family can receive. It is currently set at £26,000 per year. Currently around half of capped households are in London because those who need such high levels of benefit they tend to live in places where high rents drive up claims for Housing Benefit.

Cap set at £20,000 across UK

From next Monday (7th November) the amount families can receive in benefits across the rest of the UK will be limited to £20,000.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, says this is indefensible.

“Eleven thousand Scottish families, almost all with children, face being affected by the new benefit cap. We know, from our experience on the ground and the UK Government’s own research that the benefit cap drives people into rent arrears, debt and hunger.”

“As always those who will bear the heaviest burden through this cap will be those who are least able to suffer it. By deciding to further restrict benefits the Government is deciding to punish hundreds of children because their parents cannot find work through illness or because of family circumstances .

“We cannot tackle poverty by making people poorer and we cannot leave families without enough to meet their basic needs.”

Illness and disability

Today’s statistics reveal only 14% of families capped are unemployed and claiming Jobseekers Allowance. A similar number of families receive benefit because they are assessed as being unable to work due to illness or disability. Others are unable to work due to caring responsibilities for children or disabled adults.

The Government claims that limiting the total amount of benefits through the cap is designed to get people into work. However, it also acknowledges that most families affected have illness or caring responsibilities that prevent them from working.

Paul Morrison, policy officer for the Methodist Church, added:

“Over 2,000 single parents with babies under a year of age had their Housing Benefit cut because of the cap each month. Does the Government seriously expect that cutting housing benefit will make it easier for them to find work?”

A YouGov survey commissioned by the coalition of churches revealed that 61% of UK adults believe that welfare benefits should be set at a level that allows families with children to cover their basic costs.

The principle that families should have enough to live on led the Church of Scotland and its partners to publish the “Enough” report in November 2015. It argued benefits should be set at a level which meets a family’s basic needs and should not be eroded by the benefit cap or the 2-child rule introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2016.

NOTES

[1] The Joint Public Issues Team combines the expertise of the Church of Scotland, the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church in the area of public issues, representing more than 800,000 people in the UK

[2] For a single person the new Cap is set at 2/3 of this rate (£15,410 inside London and £13,400 outside).

[3] For example post-implementation effects of the Benefit Cap: Headline findings (2014) analysis of this and other data in the Enough report.