Touted as one of George Osborne’s flagship policies, the benefit cap places a financial limit on the amount of money that a household can receive in benefits when they are unemployed or are working fewer than 16 hours (or equivalent under Universal Credit). It was designed to ‘improve work incentives’ but instead, it is pushing many single parents and their children into further poverty.
At Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, we are deeply concerned by the terrible impact the benefit cap is having on single parents struggling to make ends meet – particularly for those with very young children.
Single parents make up nearly two thirds of all households hit by the cap and three quarters of those have a child aged under five (28% have a child aged under two).
As a policy officer at Gingerbread, I have given evidence about the impact of the benefit cap on single parents including for the current legal case in the Supreme Court and to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry. Evidence shows the disproportionate impact on single parents together with the figures on the lack of suitable work and affordable childcare that makes it so difficult for these families to escape the cap. Whilst the statistics are clear, the human stories behind the benefit cap illustrate that the policy is unfair and cruel for families with such young children.
The snapshot examples from single parents seeking advice from Gingerbread’s helpline underlie the impossible situation that many single parents including those with very young children face.
Emma, who has a nine month old baby and lives in London, is an example of someone directly impacted by the benefit cap. Despite actively looking for work, the only jobs she has been offered would not provide enough hours to escape the cap.
However, what are even starker are the longer-term examples.
Sue who had four children (including twins aged one) when her husband left in 2017. She was affected by the benefit cap and evicted from their private rented house. She then spent three months in a private rented flat which “was filthy and very, very mouldy.” She has now moved to a three bedroom council maisonette but still faces a shortfall in rent due to the benefit cap. The moves have meant her youngest child who is five has changed school three times. The benefit cap has not helped Sue to move into work but has impacted on the well-being of her children.
The government’s own figures show that the majority of single parents are not securing work to escape the cap. Instead they have a shortfall in rent, leaving them exposed to eviction and poverty. With the New Year, children’s wellbeing must be put first and the benefit cap scrapped, for single parents particularly for those with pre-school aged children.
Laura Dewar is policy officer at Gingerbread. Names of case studies have been changed for anonymity.