In this blog Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, urges the Chancellor of the Exchequer to use his economic update statement to commit to scrapping the benefit cap, as the first step toward a more just social security system and a more just economic recovery.
Today we expect to hear more from the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, about his plans for our economic recovery and, as the lockdown begins to be lifted across the UK, many people are looking forward to something like normality.
What this means will be different for everyone. Seeing family and friends, going to the shops, getting a haircut, getting back to work; all are important priorities. After months of worry about our health and our jobs, where so much of our lives have been turned upside down, normality is not too much to ask for.
But as we strive to get our economy moving again, it is important to remember that we have choices to make. Normality for too many people means low pay and insecurity, unaffordable housing and debt. It has also meant a social security system that does not provide enough to live on, and that too often fails to treat people with dignity and respect.
The choices the Chancellor makes now could begin a process of redesigning our economy and social security system to make them work for everyone. Or he could simply choose to recreate a system that has poverty and inequality at its heart.
We have seen that the UK Government can take decisions that few would have predicted this time last year: like intervening to support the pay of millions of workers or increasing the value of Universal Credit. Decisions like these reflect the importance of having a secure income that allows us to live a decent life.
Now is the time for the UK Government to build on these efforts to ensure that the economy and social security system we have after the pandemic embodies the values of compassion and kindness that have been in evidence over the last four months in communities across the country.
There are changes that can be made now to ensure that the social security supports everyone in need through the process of recovery. The benefit cap, which limits the amount of benefits that any family receives regardless of need, is one area where changes could be made now, and that’s why we have written to the Chancellor to call for it to be scrapped.
It is a policy that has reduced the incomes of many of those finding it most difficult to stay afloat, and does nothing to help people who are out of work to find jobs. The cap also entrenches the very inequalities that the pandemic has so clearly exposed over the last four months. Black and minority ethnic families are disproportionately impacted by the cap, and 70% of all families impacted are lone parent families, with lone parents overwhelmingly being women.
It is a policy that was introduced at a time when the UK Government were cutting social security benefits in the name of ‘fairness’. With millions more now needing social protection, and thousands more impacted by the benefit cap, the injustice of the policy has never been clearer.
The pandemic has shown just how much we all rely on public services to support us. And these services, particularly our social security system, are particularly important to people living on low incomes. We now need to see – as we begin our economic recovery – social security as an investment, something we spend on now to ensure that families and individuals have enough to get by, and are better able to respond to changes in their circumstances.
Policies such as the benefit cap are a disinvestment, leaving some families even more adrift and less able to cope in hard times. Ending the benefit cap would be one measure Rishi Sunak could take today to ensure we are not returning to an old failed normality, but to a new normal where everyone is treated with compassion and dignity.