Leading article: A benefits cap is the way forward

Monday 23 January 2012 01:00

Lord Ashdown's decision to add his voice to all those campaigning against the Government's proposed cap on welfare payments is regrettable. The head of steam that has now built up against restricting the state benefits received by any one household makes it entirely possible that the measure will be voted down by the House of Lords today. This would mean that the central provision of the reforms, so painstakingly drafted by Iain Duncan Smith, would have a question mark over it, even if it eventually passed into law thanks to the Commons.

The Lords, of course, have a job to do, and it is to their credit that so many of them take that job so seriously. In its debates on the Welfare Bill, the Upper House has shown a laudable concern for the plight of those who rely, for whatever reason, on the State. If they reject the benefits cap, however, they will not be doing anyone any favours. They will merely be prolonging the expensive, and unjust, status quo.

The ceiling of £26,000 per household per year was set because that is the average annual household income. Many working families have much less to live on. Common justice dictates that the State – and that means ordinary taxpayers – should not give those who do not work more money to live on than an average working household has coming in. This is the whole point of the Welfare Reform Bill, and it is well understood by most MPs who have to heed their constituents' concerns.

There may be hard cases – very large families have been mentioned, and those currently living in very expensive areas, who may have to move. But the attention such cases currently receive suggests they are few and far between and it is simply wrong that people who rely on the State should be spared the decisions that everyone else has to make every day. Nick Clegg knows that, and defended his position quite as eloquently yesterday as Lord Ashdown did his.

It will be important to monitor what effect the new rules have and highlight any genuine injustices that result. But on the basic principle – that no one who is able to work should be better off out of work than in it – there should be no compromise. The Coalition is right.

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