The Tories' benefit cap is 'social justice in action', says Iain Duncan Smith

Minister's claim contrasts with the experience of charities and researchers

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Indy Politics

The government’s benefit cap is an example of “social justice in action”, Iain Duncan Smith has said.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper the Work and Pensions Secretary claimed that his reduction in payments was providing people with a “clear path to fulfilling lives and independence from the state”.

“Welfare reform is improving social mobility for families across the country,” he argued.  “A key example of this is the benefit cap which we brought in to put a stop to sky-high benefit pay-outs. Under the Bill, the cap will be lowered from £26,000 to £23,000.”

Noting that a number of those who had been hit by the cap had found jobs, he said the cuts were not just about saving money.

“This is social justice in action, welfare reform that improves individual lives, not that just generates savings,” he wrote in the newspaper

Mr Duncan Smith presented no evidence to establish that the households had found work because their benefits had been cut, however.

The Work and Pensions  Secretary’s claims about the benefit cap is in contrast to those of charities dealing with vulnerable people and children.

The Children’s Society says over 140,000 children are hit by the cap compared to only 60,000 adults while children are more than seven times more likely to lose out from its effects.

Matthew Reed, the charity’s chief executive, said at the time of the cap’s announcement that it would be responsible for “putting more children on the breadline”.

“This is a blunt instrument trying to solve a complex problem. The policy may be targeted at workless adults, but in reality children are seven times more likely than adults to lose out. We estimate that 140,000 children, compared to 60,000 adults, will pay the price as parents have less to spend on food, clothing and rent," he said in 2013.

“Families, especially in London where the cap is being launched, may have their lives disrupted as they are forced to find cheaper rents in other parts of the country, resulting in children having to leave their schools and friends and breaking vital support networks. The cap will also put pressure on public services in the communities where they are forced to relocate."

“We fully support efforts to make work pay. But it is not right to achieve this by putting more children on the breadline."

The annual Homelessness Monitor survey by the charity Crisis and the anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found in February this year that the benefit cap was linked with rising homelessness, especially in London.

The benefit cap was listed as one of the “most problematic aspects of the recent welfare reforms” alongside the bedroom tax and council tax reforms.

Last year Oxfam’s chief executive Mark Goldring cited the benefit cap amongst other policies that were “blowing massive holes in the safety net which is supposed to stop people falling further into poverty”.

The charity Gingerbread points out that the cap also disproportionately hits single parent families, for whom childcare can be a particular burden. Six out of 10 families affected by the cap have a single parent, and of those most have care of a child under five.

The organisation's chief executive Fiona Weir said yesterday that reducing the cap "is likely to hit even more of these single parents with pre-school children" and said it the policy was in danger of increasing child poverty further.

Labour supports the benefit cap and yesterday said it was “sympathetic” to reducing if further, provided measures were taken to stem impact on homelessness and child poverty.

The Department for Work and Pensions disputes charities' claims. It says people impacted by the cap are significantly more likely to enter work and that this trend did not exist before the cap was in place.

According to departmental research, 62 per cent of those affected by the cap did not do any more to find work, while 38 per cent said they did.

The Conservative manifesto said the party’s welfare policies would create “a welfare system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too: stopping benefit cheats and ending welfare abuse”.