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Benefit Cap: Families with Children

Volume 685: debated on Monday 30 November 2020

The most recent statistics, released last week, show that 140,000 households with children have had their benefit capped. The proportion capped remains low by comparison with the overall universal credit case load. New and existing claimants can benefit from a nine-month grace period when their benefit will not be capped if they have a sustained work history, and exemptions of course also remain in place for vulnerable claimants. Since the introduction of the cap, 190,000 households are no longer capped under such benefits and nearly 80,000 are no longer capped under UC.

The number of households with children receiving universal credit who are subject to the benefit cap in my Bedford and Kempston constituency rose by a staggering 186% between January and May this year, so will the Minister guarantee that the £20 UC uplift will reach the families who need it?

My understanding is that 460 households with children were subject to the UC cap in the Bedford local authority area. I am conscious that that is a higher number than the hon. Gentleman may wish, but I point out to him that we can also make the effort to encourage people to go for vacancies, so that they can start to earn more money, which at some point triggers a removal of the benefit cap.

The number of households affected by the cap has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, to 170,000. In addition, 160,000 households will come to the end of their nine-month benefit cap grace period in the coming month. So will the Secretary of State consider extending the grace period, to avoid cutting the benefits of hard-pressed families in the run-up to Christmas?

The statistics indicate that 140,000 households with children have their benefit capped; my understanding is that overall it is about 3.1% of the UC case load. I am conscious of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me last week, in his role as Chairman of the Select Committee, with a variety of questions on the benefit cap. I will respond to him shortly, and I believe that is one of the questions he has asked me to address.

Some 85% of capped households have families with children, and the Minister revealed last week that more than 160,000 households on UC could see their benefits capped in December, when their grace period comes to an end. Does she feel no shame in plunging families and children into hardship right before Christmas? Children are paying the price for their parents losing their jobs. This is a ticking time bomb and she can stop it—it is her choice: will she scrap the cap?

The cap has been in an important part of policy in trying to stimulate entrance into work. I am conscious that there are still only about half a million vacancies, compared with a significant number of people unemployed. However, I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome, with me, some of the actions that are possible for some of the most disadvantaged families, particularly those supported by the £170 million covid winter grant, from which I understand her local council will benefit to the tune of about £823,000.