Anti-poverty campaigners will go to Downing Street today (Tue 22 Mar) to tell Chancellor Rishi Sunak to end the ‘unjust’ benefit cap, on the same day that new polling revealed a majority of the UK public want to see the policy scrapped.
Last week, more than 100 campaign groups, trade unions, faith groups and health organisations signed a joint letter in time for the Chancellor’s Spring Statement to Parliament. In it, they described the benefit cap as a “moral failing” and urged Sunak to scrap the policy which they say “knowingly and purposefully” locks families into poverty.
After the letter went unanswered by the Chancellor, they are today travelling to Downing Street to deliver it in person.
The benefit cap blocks households from getting all the help they need from the social security system. Across the UK, 190,000 households are affected by the cap, losing out on around £55 a week – money that they have been assessed as needing. Some 90% of these are households with children. In Scotland, more than 6,000 households are affected.
In 2013, government polling found that the benefit cap was supported by 73% of people. But now a new survey carried out by Survation for the Poverty Alliance has found that – excluding don’t-knows – some 57% of people now think the UK Government should remove the benefit cap.
Poverty Alliance Director Peter Kelly said: “We’re not surprised by the massive fall in support for the unjust benefit cap. People are seeing the effect it has in practice – stopping households getting enough to pay their bills, restricting the life chances of adults and children, and forcing people into foodbanks and increased debt.
“It’s a failed policy that should have no place in our society. It cuts the lifeline that people need and are entitled to, just at a time when more and more households are being caught up in a rising tide of living costs. The public know that this is a policy that has to go; the Chancellor should listen to them, and have the compassion and courage to scrap the cap now.”
The #ScrapTheCap campaign is being coordinated by the Poverty Alliance and is supported by over 100 organisations across the UK including the Church of Scotland, Save the Children UK, the Child Poverty Action Group, One Parent Families Scotland, and the Trussell Trust.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group said: “The benefit cap has always been an unjust policy – in the face of soaring costs, the cap further squeezes the incomes of some of the poorest families in the UK. It penalises parents of young children who are not even required to look for work – there is no respectable case for keeping it, the cap must be scrapped.”
Marc Francis, Director of Policy and Campaigns at London-based anti-poverty charity Z2K, said: “The benefit cap forces families to live on an income far below what the Government itself accepts is necessary to survive. Despite the rhetoric about it being designed to make work pay, two-thirds of the people the cap hits are actually not required to be actively seeking work because they are either disabled or have caring responsibilities. After nearly ten years of simply driving families below the poverty line, its time this awful policy was scrapped for good.”
A survey of households affected by the benefit cap found families who have been evicted from homes, fallen into problem debt, or kept children from school because they cannot afford the associated costs.
Nearly two-thirds of households said that in a normal month they do not have enough money to cover basic household expenses like food, rent, electricity and gas. Many also said that the cap has led to increased mental and physical health problems, as well as households being forced into using food banks, and into borrowing money from friends and family and payday lenders.