A mother given 50p a week for housing: the benefit cap one year on

The head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing writes in the Guardian: “A year on from the introduction of the lower benefit cap, its abiding legacy is to push people closer to homelessness.

“The cap, introduced on 7 November 2016, reduced the total amount any family can receive in benefits from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and £20,000 outside the capital, leaving families with significant shortfalls between the benefits they get and the cost of their housing.

“In our most recent research we spoke to 18 families with capped benefit across the UK and each time we heard a familiar story – one of stress, struggle and a daily fight to remain in their home.

“Half of those families said they had gone without food, fuel or were otherwise in debt as a result of the cut. Among a raft of other hardships a third said they had been forced to use food banks.”

“That’s hardly surprising when the government’s most recent figures show that nearly a third of the 68,000 families that were capped have lost by between £50 and £100 a week in benefits.

“One mother’s testimony poignantly sums up the impact of the policy; she told us that every day she thinks about the prospect of losing everything and being forced out of her family’s home. A single mother, she had given up work to look after her young baby and the cap slashed her housing benefit to just 50p a week.

“Meanwhile many housing associations and councils have told us that they have to provide intensive support to tenants affected by the cap just to make sure they can keep their home.

“When the original cap was first proposed it was argued that it was unfair that households who were not working were being supported to live in expensive areas, which many working families would not be able to afford.

“But the government’s latest figures show that the majority of people hit by the cap have children, and many are in receipt of benefits that recognise they are not able to work. In fact half of the families affected are on income support and 15% are on employment and support allowance.

“If the hardship the cap is causing is not a good enough reason to scrap it, then the fact that the policy is undermining the government’s own attempts to solve the housing crisis surely is.”

[Read full column on Guardian website…]