The Benefit Cap limits the maximum amount that a household can receive in benefits. Introduced by the coalition government in 2013, the cap was then lowered in 2015 by the Conservative government.
At the time, the government believed that this threshold would move people into work—with David Cameron quoted as saying that it created a "rush to the job centre".
Several year on, the true legacy of the Benefit Cap is now laid bare for all to see. It has remained frozen since 2015, and has not even increased in line with inflation. In real terms, this is a year-on-year cut for families who are subjected to the policy. Subsequent governments have failed to act, leading to increasing levels of poverty among capped households.
Now, during the coronavirus crisis, this forgotten policy needs to be urgently reviewed. Tens of thousands are being left behind. 93% of those households have children, and it is they who are limitedly suffering.
Last month, I brought the matter up during Prime Minister’s Questions, hopeful that Mr Johnson would himself look into the matter. His response was dismissive and confused, displaying no understanding of his own government’s policy.
I am not alone in calling for the Cap to be reviewed. The Child Poverty Action Group, the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are just three noted organisations to echo my calls.
Earlier this week, the Government’s own expert welfare group, the Social Security Advisory Committee, joined the goring list of voices in a letter to Thérèse Coffey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in which it expressed concern over the Benefit Cap in the context of the coronavirus crisis.
Today, I have written to the Prime Minister to raise this matter with him again. Read my letter below:
The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
10 Downing Street
Thursday 4th June 2020
Dear Prime Minister,
Further to my contribution at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday 6 May, I am writing to you regarding the Benefit Cap.
May I firstly express dismay at your outright dismissal of my question. My concerns are legitimate and echoed by many different third sector organisations and reputable think-tanks. The fact remains that since the Government lowered the Benefit Cap threshold in 2015, it has been frozen, which essentially means a real-terms cut every year for those affected. Ninety-three per cent of households affected by the cap have children, and ultimately it is those children who are losing out as a result of this policy.
Your response, to advise me that extra money was being allocated to meet the hugely increased demand for Universal Credit, showed a complete lack of awareness of the fundamental problem. To those families affected by this unfair cap, an increase in overall spending does not matter. They are prohibited from accessing any additional funding, even at this time of unprecedented crisis.
Earlier this week, your own own expert advisory group—the Social Security Advisory Committee—wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding your Government’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK.
In that letter, the committee notes its concern that "the full value of that additional support is not benefiting all cases because of the application of the benefit cap, particularly in areas with high rental costs. Claimants would normally have the option to move into paid work or to move home to avoid the impact of the benefit cap, but neither of these are realistic choices for many people at the current time."
The committee also recommends in relation to the Benefit Cap "that the Government considers what action might be possible to ensure that the spirit and intent of the additional package of financial support it has introduced in these challenging times are fully delivered."
Prime Minister, now is not the time for ideology. It is clear that people are suffering financially and that you have it in your gift to alleviate the burden for those families which are subject to the Cap. To fail to act urgently on this issue would be an unforgivable act of penurious governance and one which undoubtedly further force poverty levels upwards.
This is the second time I have raised this matter with you Prime Minister, and I hope that on this occasion you will heed my request more seriously. I appeal to your better judgement—please review the Benefit Cap without any further delay.
Thank you for your consideration of my correspondence and I look forward to your response.
David Linden MP