Lib Dems table motion on benefit cap

The original benefits cap limited the total benefits payable to any one household to £26,000. The argument was that the average household income is £26,000 that people should not be better off on benefits than if they were in work. The aim was to ‘encourage’ more people back into work, as the cap could be avoided if one of the members worked for at least 16 hours a week.

Damian Green, the Work and Pensions minister, has claimed that this strategy was a “real success” – a rather callous comment given the hardship it has imposed on a large number of families. In fact, of the 79,000 people who have already been subjected to a benefits cap, only 23,000 (30%) have managed to find the level of work that would allow them to retain their benefits.

From today the cap will be lowered even more, to £23,000. This will affect a further 88,000 people, with the average household losing £2000 each year. Single parents will be worse hit, as many anecdotes demonstrate.

The party has tabled a motion in the Lords, to be debated on Tuesday, which proposes that there should be increased support for getting people back to work. This is, of course, only a part of the solution to deal with a very messy situation.

Cathy Bakewell is our Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, and she says:

Lowering the benefit cap means it is no longer doing the job for which it was originally introduced.  Cutting thousands of people’s benefits is just cruel, but failing to help them find work is just reckless.

The Government needs to plough any savings they make from the cap into supporting those affected by it. If they are unwilling to do so, then they are accepting their new lower cap is purely a PR exercise aimed at attacking those on benefits. Those are not the actions of a civilised society.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Martin Clarke 7th Nov '16 - 6:14pm

    In order to take home £20,000 an average person would have to earn £24,755. I would guess the average taxpayer would consider £20,000 in benefits more than enough. I’m not sure public opinion is against the reduction in benefit cap.

  • I’d be interested to know whether Mr Clarke has any knowledge of child poverty, single parent families or the cost of rented accommodation. As a trustee of a Food Bank and having been associated with the CAB I can tell him that the impact will be severely damaging to a great many innocent children.

    In the meantime I hope he enjoys his gruel this coming Christmas.

  • Martin Clarke 7th Nov '16 - 6:28pm

    I get that, but I think some people believe there is a magical money tree out there which dispenses money at will. Every single penny that is paid out in benefits has to be paid for in the form of tax. £20,000 is a lot of tax.

  • Martin Clarke 7th Nov '16 - 6:30pm

    Alternatively I guess the money could be borrowed, but that means we are asking for future generations to pay off our debts and fund our lifestyles. I don’t see what is left wing or progressive in asking our children and grandchildren to pay for our lifestyles.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Nov '16 - 6:42pm

    I’m against the reduction in the benefit cap. It will create real hardship and pressure on people who need it least.

    I think public opinion can be mobilised against it. We are talking about people living in places like London with large families – why should the kids be punished? Pressure causes a lot of domestic arguments, I think, and we can do without more of these kinds of things.

    I’m not against a cap per se, but I am against lowering it.

  • They should introduce rent caps and build more public sector housing. After pensions by far the biggest welfare bill is rent which does not actually go to the poor, but to property owners and as often as not property companies. After that another chunk goes to in work benefits which keeps wages down by subsidising low pay which in turn reduces the tax revenue. The point being the benefits bill is the result of running a low wage high rent personal debt fuelled economy.

  • This government may like to toot their own horn when it comes to people getting back into work but it’s on the back of a large stick of fear and frustration and a small carrot of insecure jobs and (via a lack of regulation on rental prices, a diminishing stock of LA housing, increase in minimum wage for over 25’s only, a reduction in support to those on low incomes etc.) different worry and frustration. Low income families already did not feel that they earned enough (relative to the cost of everything else) even when a few thousand pounds above that needed to claim income related benefits before these changes. Of course you can look to the LA for support on a discretionary basis….

    In the metro today there was a short article about people taking few sick days and while that may be a marvelous thing for those who believe there are thousands of “shirkers” forcing yourself back into work before you’re ready is not so great for the GP’s who will eventually have to see you or for those concerned about the productivity of the workforce.

    (with regards to health and the workplace this is a good read:

    I do not think anyone disagrees with the decision letter statement “we believe people are better off in work” or there are those more afraid of work than incapable of doing so. This motion seems to be an obvious and genuine call to improve the situation (“there should be increased support for getting people back to work”) but it’s far from the few now shortchanged – it’s thousands of people who have been doing everything right.

  • Martin Clarke 7th Nov '16 - 7:21pm

    Although I support the benefits cap, I am also in favour of increased public housing. I feel that private landlords are enriching themselves at the expense of the poorest in society. In effect though housing benefit, the government is paying the mortgages of rich landlords and the expense of the ordinary hard working taxpayer.

  • Peter Watson 7th Nov '16 - 7:24pm

    Perhaps inevitably, since Lib Dems were part of the government that introduced the benefit cap, most of its members backed a benefits cap at £26000 or lower, and the party’s 2015 manifesto stated “We will retain the overall cap on a household’s benefits and believe this should continue to be set around the average family income”, then the party’s response to this looks a bit muddled and weak.

  • Conor McGovern 7th Nov '16 - 8:00pm

    We shouldn’t be meddling at the sidelines. We should be pushing to move the cap back in line with average pay or axe it altogether.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Nov '16 - 10:18pm

    The shortage of affordable housing is a big problem in some but not all areas. But not all private landlords are profiteering. For some it is their pension pot – you can’t live off the interest a building society pays. And rents vary wildly across the country. I would be inclined to go for a benefits cap that excluded housing with housing allowances paid on top according to local conditions. But the principle of the cap is right.

    Perhaps the Government could back a national housing investment trust, funded by pension pots, building affordable housing, and guaranteeing say 5% returns. This might solve multiple problems.

    In this context what is the definition of poverty? Different people have different views. I believe every citizen should have a right to habitable accommodation, sufficient food, warmth and clothing. Probably Internet access without which it is impossible for most people to do even basic stuff like job searches and applications, pay bills, use Government services, study and homework. Beyond that, what?

  • No one wants to see kids in poverty. But open-ended benefits simply means the taxpayer is paying the mortgages of private landlords, who are then free to charge what they like.

    Living in Wales, where the average wage is £19,000, it seems unfair that hardworking taxpayers here should be subsidising London landlords to be property millionaires.

    I raised my son on a single, below-average wage, and only had one child because I couldn’t afford childcare for two (and got no state help at all, beyond child benefit/credits), before anyone accuses me of not understanding what it’s like to watch every penny.

  • Martin Clarke …In order to take home £20,000 an average person would have to earn £24,755. I would guess the average taxpayer would consider £20,000 in benefits more than enough. I’m not sure public opinion is against the reduction in benefit cap……….

    Reading your comments I’m reminded of the Southern US states where the biggest defenders of segregation were poor whites…No matter how bad their situation they always knew they were ‘superior’ to ‘Blacks’…A similar divisive policy by IDS, Green, Patel, etc.. has resulted in the working (Deserving) poor turning against the unemployed (undeserving) poor…

    The Tory policy of, “We won’t improve your situation, but we’ll make the other section worse off than you”, continues. Affordable council homes have now become ‘money mines’ for private landlords…As has been said many, many times, the government’s priority should be to “Cap rents before benefits”…

    A for this ‘magic money tree’ could we not take a few fruit from the branches that seem to produce enough for M.E. wars, Trident, etc?

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Nov '16 - 12:16am

    There is not and never was any defensible ethical or logical point to the benefits cap; reducing it is vile and punitive, but it’s important to be clear that it’s the very principle that’s wrong.
    The only reason that anyone is getting anything like the amount of benefit affected by this measure is because housing costs have been allowed to skyrocket. Abolish right to buy subsidies and build social housing at genuinely affordable rents and the “problem” (in so far as it’s a problem at all) will evaporate.

  • There needs to be a safety net but that anyone can get £2000 per month in state benefits is crazy.

  • Daniel Walker 8th Nov '16 - 8:19am

    @Peter Watson

    Removing the benefit cap altogether is current party policy, so I think that poll has been superseded.

  • Peter Watson 8th Nov '16 - 8:46am

    @Daniel Walker “Removing the benefit cap altogether is current party policy”
    While at the same time the party website cites the introduction of a benefits cap as an example of how it was working to create a fair welfare system (
    It is this lack of consistency over the last several years that makes me despair for the Lib Dems who seem to call simultaneously for a larger and a smaller state, still with no clear sense of direction despite a fall from grace and a change of leader. I believe it is not enough to unite around an anti-Brexit position without being clearer about what sort of UK the party wants (whether in the EU or outside).

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Nov '16 - 8:57am

    @ Martin Clarke,
    Where does the money come from.

    Well to quote Tony Benn, ‘I f we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people’.

    If one wishes to reduce the benefit bill one should stop the sale of local authority housing , right to buy subsidies and build decent housing that that can be rented at a reasonable and affordable cost.

    @ Daniel Walker,
    It is a pity that the party chose to add to the growing hard- heartedness shown to those on benefits when it was in government. The main victims as always being the children brought up in highly -stressed households.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Nov '16 - 9:06am

    david 8th Nov ’16 – 8:18am

    “There needs to be a safety net but that anyone can get £2000 per month in state benefits is crazy.”

    If you develop a serious chronic illness requiring multiple interventions you could very easily cost the state well over £2000 a month for a considerable period of time. Is that also crazy?

    Needs vary over time and between individuals and households. There’s nothing magical about £23000 a year or £26000 a year. When the cap comes down again, will you make the same comment about getting £1500 a month, then £1200 a month? Just how low can our compassion be squashed?

  • @ Jayne Mansfield Completely agree, Jayne. I have always thought that treating people decently and with compassion ought to be part of what Charlie Kennedy called ‘the party’s DNA.’

    Peter Watson is right to point to a lack of consistency in party policy despite the current policy position. Over recent years I have often despaired about the wishy-washy nature of the record of the modern party.

    Malcolm Todd also makes a powerful point about people with chronic needs. One could add that the cost of a transplant operation is probably about half a million plus ongoing-costs for medication………….. yet are we going to stand back and just let people die ?

    There is indeed a thing called society. For Liberals it ought to be a principled compassionate society……. although I do now detect an erosion and attack on the achievements of the last 100 years led by the robber baron tax dodging expats who own large chunks of the press and media.

    I also believe, like Jayne, it’s time to grasp the nettle of the cost and absurdity of a so-called British nuclear deterrent.

  • Malcolm, Things like serious illnesses that cost the state a lot can of course arise and the taxpayer doesn’t complain (usually), but very generous benefits that simply reflect and reinforce long-term life-style choices is a different thing IMO.

  • david 8th Nov ’16 – 10:11am………Things like serious illnesses that cost the state a lot can of course arise and the taxpayer doesn’t complain (usually), but very generous benefits that simply reflect and reinforce long-term life-style choices is a different thing IMO………

    Dear, oh dear….IMO your conclusion that relying on ‘benefits’ is a choice that can be overcome by a ‘change in attitude’ reflects ‘GreenSpeak’ and, in most cases, has as much validity as telling the sick to, “Pick up thy bed and walk’….a medical policy that hasn’t worked for the last 2000 years…..

  • @ david…. “simply reflect and reinforce long-term life-style choices is a different thing IMO”.

    And what lifestyle would that be ?

  • Andrew Toye 8th Nov '16 - 1:16pm

    The cap is per household, not per person – a household of 2 adults earning £20,000 between them would be working either part time or less than the minimum wage. And they would have to share it with however many children they have living with them. That is why the cap is wrong – why should the children have to suffer? As for the argument that it is an incentive to work – well the cap applies however hard people look for work. People need to look for work, yes, but they also need somewhere to live and to put food on the table whilst doing so.

  • @ Andrew Toye “People need to look for work, yes, but they also need somewhere to live and to put food on the table whilst doing so”

    Agreed, and even more important, they also need to be able to love, cherish, encourage and support their children.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Nov '16 - 1:52pm

    david 8th Nov ’16 – 10:11am

    “Malcolm, Things like serious illnesses that cost the state a lot can of course arise and the taxpayer doesn’t complain (usually), but very generous benefits that simply reflect and reinforce long-term life-style choices is a different thing IMO.”

    First of all, you need to establish that “very generous benefits that simply reflect and reinforce long-term life-style choices” actually exist outside the world of tabloid imaginings before you can legitimately debate whether to support their existence.
    Secondly, “IMO” is no substitute for an actual argument.

  • One aspect of choice of lifestyle is how many children you choose to have. Another is being prepared to do whatever work is available.

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Nov '16 - 3:45pm

    Life style choice is a very cruel phrase. I was lucky enough to stay at home to look after my children and I had three so I was outside the world of work for a long time. I found it very difficult to return to work because my confidence in work was minimal, despite having been a Lib Dem councillor for 7 or 8 years previously. If your grandparents didn’t work, or your parents (and this is quite possible given structural unemployment) then you have no concept of what work involves and definitely need support to return to work. You are also quite likely to brave out your horrible situation by saying you don’t want to work anyway. If you are in council accommodation it is very difficult to move from one part of the country to another and obviously private rented accommodation is going to be more expensive in areas of higher employment. In these circumstances choice doesn’t have much of a place does it?

  • There will be strong feelings on whether a benefit cap is a good policy and secondary whether £20,000 is too low but I hope everyone can see that dropping from £26,000 to this is a drastic and painful decrease for thousands of people.

  • Dean Crofts 8th Nov '16 - 6:53pm

    There is clearly strong feeling regarding the benefit cap on this post but please remember the benefit cap does not apply to people that are sick. It applies to families that are able to work and are not seeing a GP. It excludes the disabled, carers etc but a lot more work needs to be done regarding parents with young children living on their own. A lot more work on childcare provision so that parents can return to work after having a child and not expect their incomes to be restricted just because they wish to raise a family. Also when universal credit is introduced the working hours directive of tax credits will be abolished therefore families on universal credit working should be relatively better off.. the future of lib dem policy must be directed in making sure this current government does not dilute the benefits of universal credit which has already begun by the conservatives getting rid of work allowances in the universal credit calculations.

  • I find it fascinating that apart from the insight offered by Expats, everyone seems to have carefully avoided the hard true contained in Martin Clarke’s first comment: “I would guess the average taxpayer would consider £20,000 in benefits more than enough. I’m not sure public opinion is against the reduction in benefit cap.”

    In some respects it doesn’t really matter whether the amount is or isn’t enough to live on, it has to acceptable to those who either actually pay tax or who work and earn a similar amount and who for various reasons don’t claim or qualify for benefits and have a real understanding of just what is involved in earning £20,000.

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