MPs demand major changes to 'cruel' benefits cap which 'targets claimants unable to work'
A majority of claimants affected by the Government's “cruel” benefits cap will never be able to return to work, an influential group of MPs has said.
In a hard-hitting new report, the Work and Pensions Committee blasted the existing benefit ceiling, which is only supposed to apply to those deemed capable or expected to look for work.
But evidence to the committee shows 82% of those hit by the cap are people falling outside that category, with "no escape" from the freeze's financial grip.
The committee also said it heard “extreme but real” instances of families left with so little money their children were taken into care due to neglect.
Committee member Heidi Allen said: "All Government policy must be based on evidence, yet there is scarce evidence to suggest the cap is moving people into work - not least because 82% of those affected by the cap are not in any case expected to work because of health or caring responsibilities.
“This cap and the benefits freeze are outdated policies, not taking into account the increased cost of living since their inception.
“Bluntly, the Government doesn’t have the objective or moral grounds on which to maintain its position."
The cap was initially introduced in 2013 as a way to boost incentives to work, create “greater fairness” between benefits claimants and taxpayers in employment and increase financial savings.
it means families living in London can accrue a total of £23,000 in welfare benefits a year, while single people in the capital can take £15,410.
Outside of London the figures are £20,000 and £13,400 respectively.
Currently, Universal Credit, Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Bereavement Allowance, Maternity Allowance and Income Support are all subject to the cap.
But the report finds the policy has resulted in a “marginal” positive employment effect, with only five out every 100 households affected by the cap moving into work.
The committee added: “Few of these claimants will be comforted by the Minister's flippant suggestions (in evidence to the Committee) that they simply move house, renegotiate their rent or even take in a lodger.
“In reality, they are left with no way to escape the cap… A policy aimed at people who could work but were choosing not to is now being applied to single mothers with newborn babies and people with serious health conditions.”
The report calls for the freeze to only apply to claimants receiving Job Seekers’ Allowance or claiming Universal Credit in the ‘all work-related’ activity group.
Committee chair Frank Field added: "It would be difficult to think of a more cruel cut. Benefits are being cut with the aim of driving people into work, but four in five people bearing this cut aren’t expected to work. What genius in government thought this one up?"
Evidence heard by the scrutiny body also flagged a “recurring theme” that benefit levels are “inadequate” for basic living costs, leading to a further call to hike the caps considering in-work benefits, earnings and inflation in the calculation.
Committee members also rejected the Department of Work and Pensions claim that the benefit cap is saving money, as they say the £190 million a year is just 0.1 percent of the overall welfare bill.
But a spokesperson for the department said: “The benefit cap restores fairness so that it pays to work and still ensures there’s a safety net for the most vulnerable. We will carefully consider the report’s findings and respond in due course. People receiving certain disability benefits are already exempt from the cap.”