The High Court has granted an urgent challenge to the reduced benefit cap and the hearing will go ahead in May.
The specific test cases all concern lone parents with children under the age of two, a cohort that the DWP says are not expected to work yet have to find work else they are benefit-capped and put at severe and imminent risk of eviction and homelessness.
“The Secretary of State (ie DWP) recognises that lone parents of very young children under two should not be expected to work ...” and a quick look at the total 20,096 benefit capped cases at November 2016 shows that 5,030 lone parents who are capped have a child of under two years of age – just over 25% of all cases.
I have raised this specific point many times before and as far back as March 2015 that the not expected to work cohort are between a rock and hard place in that they either work of face an almost inevitable arrears eviction and homelessness pathway. This is one of the systemic aspects of the policy and overtly and directly creates child homelessness.
I would take issue with the statement that “…free childcare for low income families starts only when ...” as (a) only a percentage of the child care cost is paid and not all of it, and (b) when the 16 hour work necessary to qualify for Working Tax Credit is in a zero hours contract or an on-call form of employment or is out of normal 9 – 5 working hours then is any such child care provision actually available at all? I strongly doubt that it is.
The same goes for the other major cohort of benefit capped households, those who are on ESA and in the work-related activity group (WRAG) that I have termed the unable to work. ESA used to be called Incapacity Benefit and the rationale for this cohort is they are expected to work (a) in up to two years time, and (b) if they get support both into employment and to sustain employment … yet that support simply does not exist.
This unable to work cohort accounts for 15% of benefit-capped households as Table 6 in the same official DWP figures referenced above reveals:
As we can see there are more incapacitated and unable to work benefit cap households than there are in receipt of JSA who are by definition able and ready to work and which all capped households need to do to escape the overall benefit cap.
I am glad that this case is going ahead as it very specifically is about those who are benefit-capped yet not expected to work. I do find it strange that those who are unable to work have no such challenge going ahead (at least to my knowledge) as being unable to work by definition must be more of a constraint than being not expected to work – and even that assumes that those in the ESA WRAG who have been found ‘fit for work’ by the highly discredited work capability assessments are actually fit for work within that two years and by which time they will have been evicted and made homeless.
Late last week I was contacted by a grandmother, a kinship carer, who because she looks after her grandchildren as the mother cannot – and one of around 170,000 such kinship families across the UK – she is hit by the benefit cap and even had her council landlord doorstep her, that is turn up on her doorstep demanding to know what plan she has for her benefit cap arrears.
How can the government now exempt carers and those who receive Carers Allowance from the benefit cap yet not exempt kinship carers who do exactly the same job of caring for their kin yet get no benefit for this at all? That has no rhyme or reason and in my mind is just as strong a legal case as those unable to work and not expected to work.
I restate that the reduction in the overall benefit cap has no political detractors as the same policy was in the last Labour Party general election manifesto and was not mentioned at all at the last Labour conference and no other political party has publicly come out and condemned this policy that systemically makes children homeless.
Hopefully this legal case will raise political awareness of just what this heinous overall benefit cap policy actually means in reality. The overall benefit cap is THE most offensive and outrageous social security policy of the lot and also the one most misunderstood and has the least awareness.
UPDATE 16:00 27 February 2017
One of my earliest posts in 2015 on those not expected to work said – correctly – that a mum giving birth at 9 am would need to go to work that same day else be hit by the very significant benefit cap deductions. Mum could be cut and have sutures from childbirth yet still HAS to go to work the day of giving birth even though the government admit she is not expected to work.
I am amazed that this very real aspect has not been picked up by feminists because this is precisely what the policy means and how it will impact.
5 thoughts on “Not expected to work yet still benefit-capped”
Joe, it has been picked up by some of us feminists! Obviously this has all sorts of knock-on effects for women, eg it could act as an added deterrent to leaving an abusive partner if one is dependent on that partner for income. The principle of financial independence for mothers is vital to safety. Refuge workers are aware of its impacts on the possibilities of women getting suitably re-housed, which as you have pointed out previously in another context has a knock-on effect of causing “bed-blocking” in refuges.
The element I object to most in this attack on single parents, as a feminist, is the implication that raising children is not work! I would prefer that we distinguish the wider concept of “work” (ie expenditure of time and energy to create or produce something, including human well-being in any form) from “waged work”. Whilst have no problem with the socialisation of childcare work in the form of free or cheap “childcare provision”, I think there is a serious problem with tying this to an agenda of pushing parents into waged work as though childcare – whether in the home or in a nursery or playgroup – deserved no financial support regardless of the “employment status” of the parent..
If the rights of parents is not sufficient consideration, we should also question whether it is in the best interests of young children to (a) spend long hours in daycare or (b) be cared for at home (during the hours when parents are not at their “jobs”) by parents exhausted by the strains of their dual workload, or who find it difficult to take time off when their child is unwell or experiencing other problems.
My point is not to attack parents who want to have waged work – and is certainly not intended as a call to return to a situation where mothers were assumed to be solely responsible for childcare. But pushing mothers into waged work on pain of being deprived of the means to support their family does nothing to relieve them of this responsibility, but only makes it harder. Children are ultimately a collective “resource”, however cared for, and we should absolutely reject any notion that they are some kind of luxury “possession” of the individual parent, and that wage-earners should therefore resent “subsidising” their care (as is the ideological message of the Cap and the disgustingly low level of out-of-work benefits generally). And if we are to do away with gender inequalities with regard to childcare responsibilities, a better start would be to reduce working hours all round (without loss of income – and various studies and experiments show that this can be done) so that everyone who wants to parent has time and energy to do so.
In some respects a similar consideration applies to tying mental health and other disability support to the “welfare-to-work” agenda – as thousands of people with these disabilities can testify to their cost. Arguing that the support “simply is not there” is dangerous in this context, as it feeds the agenda which is driving support services down the road of seeking funding by treating waged work as a health outcome, rather than offering the kind of support identified by the service-user as helping them maintain an adequate level of mental and/or physical well-being. Support needs to be there on the basis of need, irrespective of whether it results in employment.
Ellen, not disagreeing with your comments on what this means for feminism or for refuges and so on yet this issue is so urgent and so predicted and foreseen the two questions of How the hell has it been allowed to get here and Why has no action been taken about it.
This one implication alone of a woman giving birth then forced to work is so outrageous even if it didn’t impact in other ways. Yet, MPs (of all parties) and the usually very assertive feminist lobbies have done nothing of note in terms of actions.
This one implication can be seen and recognised by the most chauvinistic male as being an outrage and yet this one issue has never made the media or come to public attention and we have to ask WHY?
One simple issue is more than enough to get the vast majority of vox populi against this heinous policy yet it has not been promoted, and for that matter neither has hundreds of thousands of children being made homeless systemically and directly by it and they will all pay for the alleged sins of their parents.
Yet the only responses to my (and others) banging on about this is …. oh the public like the benefit cap and its not easy to change their views on it! That fucking stinks and is abject shithousery on behalf of all politicians (many of whom claim to be feminists) and the same abject shithousery by every other lobby group whether in homelessness, housing, local government, feminists, all left wing and humanist activists and any others you care to think about.