Overall benefit cap is social cleansing

The Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) came into effect on 15 July. It places a ceiling on the total working-age benefits a household can receive. The cap has been set at £500 per week for a couple, regardless of how many children they may have, and £350 per week for a childless single person. If total benefits exceed the cap, money will be taken off any housing benefit the household receives. The cap does not affect pensioners, or families in receipt of disability benefits, or if one adult is working more than 24 hours a week (16 hours for a single person). The government presents it as a matter of fairness, saying that families of the unemployed should not receive more than the average wage. This is a sleight of hand: the average wage is for an individual, not for a household. In fact, the cap will result in the possible eviction of tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly children, some within a matter of weeks. Martha Scott explains.

The average loss for affected households is estimated at £93 per week – this will be a net deduction from housing benefit. Although the Depart­ment of Work and Pensions claims only 40,000 families will be affected, unofficial estimates put the figure at over 80,000. More will be added as the number of unemployed swells in the future and as private rents continue to rise. 47% of the affected families live in London, and nationally 46% live in social housing.

As an example of how the OBC works, a couple with three children can receive up to £327.05 per week in benefits before housing is considered. This means the maximum that would be paid in housing benefit or local housing allowance is £172.95 per week (£500 less £327.05). So such a couple living in three-bedroomed accommodation in inner London, al-though nominally entitled to local housing allowance of £347.88 per week to cover the rent, will now only receive half of it. This means that they will face eviction under the ‘Ground 8’ rule within 16 weeks unless they find the means to pay it. A couple with five children receiving £458.47 per week in welfare benefits will get just £41.53 per week in housing benefit. If they live in a four-bed council house in the lowest cost rent area, paying £100 per week in rent, they will have to find nearly £60 per week. If however they live in private accommodation in inner London, they will have to find £360 a week (see speye.wordpress.com).

The larger the family, therefore, the sooner they will face eviction, and the majority of those involved will be children. The cap will make it impossible for unemployed people or their families to live in London. It will represent a terrible threat to those who are in insecure employment, or those who cannot work the minimum hours to escape the cap. Anyone losing their job in London will face the prospect of having to move out of the city. Brent Council admits that it has procured properties for evicted families in Luton and Hertfordshire; Camden Council is planning to move 761 poor families out of the capital. This is social cleansing.

The Labour Party supports the benefit cap, criticising it only for not being stringent enough. Labour Sha­dow Secretary for Work and Pensions Liam Byrne says that ‘ministers have bodged the rules so the cap won’t affect Britain’s 4,000 largest families and it does nothing to stop people living a life on welfare.’ 4,000 is a tiny proportion of all families receiving benefits yet Byrne uses them as a rod to beat all claimants. In his determination to be seen as hard on those he calls ‘shirkers’ he echoes the most vindictive and hate-filled attitudes of the tabloid press towards the poor.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013


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