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Benefit Cap

Volume 779: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the extent to which the new lower benefit cap will encourage people into work or to move into smaller homes.

My Lords, the evaluation of the 2013 benefit cap showed that more households are looking for and finding work. Capped households were 41% more likely to enter work than similar uncapped households. The evaluation found that very few capped households moved house, and those who moved generally only moved short distances. Statistics show that people moving into work is the largest single factor in the benefit cap no longer applying.

I thank the Minister for that reply but wonder if he has seen the recent report from the IFS which, in relation to the new cap, identifies that a larger number of smaller properties, both in and out of London, will now be affected; and its assessment that, on the basis of the earlier cap, there is little evidence that it helps move people into work or to smaller accommodation—indeed, I think fewer than 5% of those affected by the cap previously actually went into work. Is the Minister also aware of the report of the Chartered Institute of Housing? It forecasts that the new benefit cap will cut the benefit income of some 116,000 households, including 320,000 children, by up to £115 a week. Is it not time for the Government to come clean and recognise that this is not about changing behaviours, it is all about saving money at the expense of some of the poorest in our society?

My Lords, I totally reject what the noble Lord had to say. As he knows perfectly well, because he will have seen it, our evaluation that appeared in 2014 showed just what I said in my original Answer—they were some 41% more likely to go back into work than similar uncapped households. It also showed that 38% of those capped said they were doing more to find work, one-third were submitting more applications and one-fifth went on to make more interviews. That is why my right honourable friend made the announcement in last year’s Budget of further changes to the benefit cap. In due course we will look for a further evaluation, which I look forward to showing to the noble Lord when it comes through.

My Lords, according to the Government’s own impact assessment nearly a quarter of a million children are affected by the reduced benefit cap, more than two and a half times the number of affected adults. This includes many preschool children in lone-parent families at greater risk of poverty. Given that the prime aim here is to encourage more people into work, will the Minister consider exempting single parents with young children, who would not otherwise be expected to work under the current benefit rules and who rely on familiar social networks and services?

My Lords, I accept one part of the right reverend Prelate’s question: it is valuable for all concerned, particularly children, to live in households where all those who are likely to earn are in full-time employment. It is work that is the benefit to children. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that the number of children living in workless households is now at a record low. We have seen falls there; the number is down by more than 80,000 in the past year and well over half a million since 2010. We need to wait to see the evaluation of our further changes to the benefit cap before we make any further promises of the sort that the right reverend Prelate is seeking from me.

My Lords, the Government made it clear during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 that the aim of the benefit cap was to achieve positive effects through changed attitudes to welfare. Beyond the employment statistics that we have heard today, are there any other signs of a shift away from a culture of welfare dependency towards a culture of work dependency?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for highlighting that point, something ignored by noble Lords on the other side. Trying to get away from the culture of welfare dependency into a culture of work dependency is exactly what we are trying to do, and it is what we have achieved. That is why I wanted to highlight to the House—I could repeat it to my noble friend but I do not think that that is necessary—just what the 2014 evaluation showed. We will look for an evaluation of those further changes in due course.

My Lords, the Minister’s undertaking to provide another evaluation subsequent to the 2014 evaluation is welcome, but I have to say to him that no one I have met outside the Government believes the assessment that was published in 2014 so he is going to have to work harder in future to secure the policy success that the Government are looking for. In the course of the next evaluation, will he look carefully at the sustainability of the work that clients achieve, the proportion of the case load that is moving into disability benefits and the proportion of the case load applying successfully for discretionary housing payments? The discretionary housing payment spend for the rest of this Parliament will be £1,000 million.

I am sorry the noble Lord does not believe the evaluation that appeared in 2014. A very good evaluation it was, and it produced some very good figures that I do not think the noble Lord himself could question. I have quoted the figures from that evaluation and I will be able to produce further figures in due course when another evaluation appears. However, it is not just about changing the culture, although that is very important; it is also a question, as I am sure the noble Lord will accept, of fairness. We do not think it is right that those in benefit should be receiving incomes higher than those on average earnings.

My Lords, the lower benefit cap is just, of course, one of the many measures that the Government are using to reduce access to welfare benefits, as the Minister indicated in an earlier answer. Another is the repeated assessment of disabled people. Does the Minister believe that it is reasonable to reassess repeatedly people with brain injuries, for example, and life-long disabilities that will prevent them ever getting back to work? Will he assure the House that he will give his personal attention to this matter, with a view to bringing to an end this cruel procedure?

I regret to say that the noble Baroness is going quite beyond the Question on the Order Paper, but I would be more than happy to write to her about that particular issue.