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The Benefit Cap is Turning People's Lives Upside Down

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Who would have thought it? Cutting people's benefits, when there are almost 14 times as many jobseekers as jobs, hasn't sent them all rushing back to work and is causing misery for those families at the sharp end of austerity.

The Chartered Institute of Housing's report into the impact of the benefit cap in one area of London confirms what any reasonable person would have guessed. But the headline, that the cap is struggling to meet its aims of encouraging people into work and saving taxpayers' money, is I think rather generous.

First, perhaps understandably for the charity, it accepts they are the aims of the policy. Yes, they are the stated aims. But I believe the cap is more about demonising those who are out of work and turning communities against each other instead of, say, the bankers or the political elite who caused the recession.

Also, it underplays some of the findings. The lack of people moving into jobs was inevitable, and many warned that costs would simply shift from central government to local councils - true Tory localism. But reading what is a detailed and harrowing report you get an insight into how this pernicious policy is turning people's lives upside down.

It says mass evictions and relocations have not yet happened but "are visible on the horizon" and that there was "a flurry of pre-emptive evictions" before implementation in what looked like "a planned campaign" by landlords; it says, shockingly, women are having to stay with abusive partners rather than leave and face being hit by the benefit cap; that mental health problems are being exacerbated; children are in danger of being taken into care, and there are fears some child protection cases could fall off the radar.

One arresting revelation is that a school reported seven children had already left as a result of the benefit cap, and it expected more to follow. Seven children from just one school in the initial stages of a now national policy. Seven children ripped from their friends and having their education disrupted at the whim of a bunch of privileged Tories.

None of these circumstances is likely to improve. Quite the reverse. The report notes the measures families are taking to mitigate the worst effects and keep a roof over their heads are unsustainable.

The researchers did find one "positive consequence" in improvements in joint working between agencies and voluntary groups. This is, of course, always welcome, but we'll be forgiven for not celebrating the fact that in 2013 we have a government causing such hardship in our communities that council staff and jobcentre workers are having to work ever harder while their own budgets are being cut.

These are dedicated public servants, forced to implement not only this destructive policy but many others as well. From the benefit cap to the hated bedroom tax, and the vicious regime of sanctions that treats as criminals those who have nothing, instead of offering them the support they so desperately need.

These policies must be defeated. My union, PCS, will do what we can but we can not act alone; these are much bigger issues than can be resolved by a single industrial dispute. That is one reason why it is so disappointing to hear Labour's new work and pensions spokeswoman Rachel Reeves talking up how tough they would be on welfare, instead of taking the opportunity to make a clean break from her predecessor Liam Byrne.

We know these policies are built on lies. I have previously written about the myth that anyone is better off on benefits, trotted out by politicians and their friends in sections of the media alongside the lie that hordes of people are choosing to live a life on benefits.

We can not say it often enough. There are currently almost seven million people out of work or looking for more hours; there are half a million job vacancies in our economy. The massive peg does not fit into the tiny hole and never will, no matter how hard you try.

This reports shows that if we cut the support for those who need it most their lives will be thrown into immediate turmoil, but it also serves as a warning that we are storing up trouble for future generations. This is not how a civilised country should be treating its vulnerable citizens.

Around the Web

Benefit cap - GOV.UK

Benefit cap from 2013 - Shelter England

Benefit cap - Department for Work & Pensions

Benefits cap is not saving taxpayers money, report finds

Benefit cap 'not encouraging work or saving money'

London housing crisis: nastiness, stupidity and the benefits cap

'Benefits cap now fully in place', says Iain Duncan Smith