Anti-poverty campaigners have today launched a new campaign calling on the UK Government to scrap the benefit cap, after a survey of people on low incomes and charities found that the policy is causing widespread harm and hardship.
The campaign, called Scrap the Cap, is being coordinated by the Poverty Alliance and is being supported by over 50 organisations including the Church of Scotland, Shelter Scotland and the Trussell Trust. It has been launched after respondents to a Poverty Alliance survey reported that the cap is pushing them into poverty, with the majority of respondents saying that in a normal month they do not have enough money to cover basic household expenses like rent, utilities and food. They also reported significant impacts on their mental health, as well as being forced into using food banks and into borrowing money from friends and family.
Organisations that responded to the survey reported a range of difficulties faced by people that they support, including families who have been evicted from their homes, fallen into problem debt, and who have kept their children off school because they cannot afford the associated costs of school.
Campaigners say that the cap – which places a limit on the amount of means-tested benefit payments an individual or family can receive – locks people, disproportionately lone parents (who are overwhelmingly women) and people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds, into poverty. They are calling for the urgent removal of the benefit cap – particularly in the face of the ongoing cost of living crisis – and say it would loosen the grip of poverty of thousands of people’s lives in the UK.
Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance said:
“Right now, people across this country are facing a cost-of-living crisis. For families and individuals affected by the benefit cap, who are already trapped in the grip of poverty, this crisis is even more acutely felt.
The way the benefit cap is designed means that those who need the highest level of support from the benefit system – such as lone parents with young children, larger families, and people who are not able to work – are the most likely to be affected. The vast majority of these households are exempt from looking for work, meaning they are simply trapped in poverty’s grip, unable to increase their income through employment. This is an injustice that goes against everything our social security system should do.
By scrapping the benefit cap, the UK Government would loosen the grip of poverty on the lives of families across the country. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Eilidh Dickson, Policy and Parliamentary Manager at Engender, said:
“Women are disproportionately impacted by the benefit cap, which contributes to women’s inequality and poverty in Scotland. The cap leaves women and their children without enough to live on and has particularly desperate impacts for single parents – more than 90% of whom are women – and women who are survivors of domestic abuse. Engender wholeheartedly supports the campaign to Scrap The Cap and a move towards a social security system that is based on supporting, not punishing, women in Scotland.”
Polly Jones, Head of Scotland at the Trussell Trust, said:
“Lack of income is the key driver of food bank use and we know the benefit cap is forcing many to make impossible choices. No one should be forced to choose between feeding their family or heating their home. The benefit cap is unfair, it’s unjust and it’s forcing people into further hardship. We’re backing the Scrap the Cap campaign because we want to see a social security system that ensures everyone can afford the essentials.”
About the benefit cap:
The benefit cap, which came into effect in April 2013, is a limit on the total amount of means-tested benefit payments an individual or family can receive. As of May 2021, 190,000 households are affected by the cap, receiving on average £55 per week less in support than they would if the cap was not in place.
With some exceptions, the cap affects households claiming benefits where no one works more than 15 hours per week. In practice, the policy affects mostly families with children, the majority of whom are women and those with high housing costs.
Originally, the capped amount reflected the average earned income of a working household’s take-home pay, but by 2017 all new and existing claimants affected by the cap received a new lower amount.
For those affected, social security payments are capped at £20,000 per year for families (outside London), equivalent to £1,666.67 per month.
The cap is implemented through a reduction in either Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, depending on whether the household remain on legacy benefits or have already moved onto Universal Credit.