With conference ‘fun’ over, it’s back to business as usual and the relentless march of the benefit cap. With parliament returning this week, today work will continue on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. And, chief amongst our concerns with the measures proposed in the bill, include the impact on children of lowering the level of the benefit cap and how to prevent its most harmful effects.
CPAG’s concerns with the benefit cap are both in principle – it breaks the link between how much people need to live on and what they are entitled to receive and has the power to undermine all other social security legislation – and how it actually works in practice. The bill proposes to reduce the level of the cap from £26,000 to £23,000 in Greater London and £20,000 everywhere else. And, to date, children have been the hardest hit. The DWP releases quarterly data on the benefit cap, which shows that over 220,000 children have been hit by the cap, compared to just fewer than 87,000 adults. And young children in particular have been adversely affected: almost half of the households capped in May contained a child under five and 10 per cent were lone parents with a child under 1.
The negative impacts of the benefit cap on children were considered recently by the Supreme Court as a result of a judicial review, in which CPAG intervened, brought by two mothers fleeing domestic violence and subsequently hit by the benefit cap. The judgement called into question the fairness of the cap with three of the five judges finding that in introducing the cap, the Government failed to comply with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and two finding that it breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In her judgement, Lady Hale said the cap deprived children of “the basic necessities of life” and made them “suffer from a situation which is not of their making and which they themselves can do nothing about”. Lord Carnwath – who provided the crucial swing vote dismissing the appeal - said that he hoped the Government would address the breaches of children’s rights in its review of the benefit cap. A pretty damning review.
Children were never stated as the target of the benefit cap, but they have been collateral damage. However, there are ways to limit the damage on children:
- Remove children’s benefits from the cap Removing child tax credit and child benefit from the scope of the cap would mean that benefits that are earmarked to help meet the cost of raising a child are not cut by the cap.
- Protect lone parents with a child under 5 from the cap Lone parents with younger children are currently not expected to move into work, recognising their additional caring responsibilities and barriers to work. However, they can currently be forced to move into work as a result of being hit by the benefit cap.
- Ensure homeless families are not hit by the cap Homeless families living in temporary accommodation will often pay higher levels of rent. Their increased vulnerability and the risk of making already homeless families homeless again should act as motivation for protecting them from the cap.
- Protect victims of domestic violence from the cap Facing a significant loss of income as a result of the benefit cap could prevent a parent from leaving, or staying separated from, an abusive partner.
- Consider the rights of the child when reviewing the cap The bill proposes that the Secretary of State sets the level of the cap in future, taking account of the economic situation and any other matters that s/he considers relevant. The rights of the child should also be considered when setting the level of the cap in order to protect them from disproportionate negative impacts.
Even supporters of the principle of the benefit cap must admit that the time has come for the Government to do more to shield children from its terrible impact.