The errant and misleading Tory benefit cap figures

According to the latest figures from the DWP 66,135 families are affected by the reduced overall benefit cap.  The figure in October 2016 the last month before the swingeing reduction was 19,095 thus (a) 47,040 families containing 143,000 children have been newly capped and (b) this is an overall 246% increase.

However: –

The 66,135 figure that the DWP issued does not contain any increased figures for some large areas such as Manchester, Sheffield or Southwark and these three areas alone could easily see an additional 7,000 families and a further 20,000 children

The DWP figure does NOT include those who are benefit-capped and in receipt of Universal Credit and so many more thousands and possibly tens of thousands

These are just two obvious and immediate reasons of many more as to why this 66,135 figure is a knowing and significant understatement of the real figure and needs to be viewed with extreme caution.

That said these knowingly understated figures place a further 150,000 children into poverty an issue that is abhorrent and an outrage yet largely met with the Not My Problem Thank You (NMPTY) response.  The scrounger narrative of the Tories has done its job very well given the lack of outrage among the general public to the overall benefit cap policy aided by some highly skewed (I am being overly kind!) TV documentaries by Dispatches and Panorama recently.

It’s a national issue affecting everywhere …

In October 2016, the last month before the overall benefit cap cut London had 43% of all capped families and now it has just 23% revealing that the policy now affects every village, hamlet, town and city across Great Britain (No figures for Northern Ireland where the OBC is fully mitigated.)  London has seen an 85% increase in families affected whereas the rest of GB sees an increase of between 313% in Yorkshire & Humber to 430% increase in capped families in the East Midlands.

Some areas have seen increases of over 1000% including RoyalTunbridge Wells – that well known hotbed of benefit scrounging anyone? – to emphasise the point that the overall benefit cap’s swingeing cut of 23% in social security benefit hits everyone.

It is not all about families however …

London pre OBC had 1005 single persons and now has 6505 affected – a 6-fold increase while the regions see much higher increases with the North East going from 0 to 60; the North West 23 to 210; the South East 16 to 436; and Scotland from 103 to 1689 with the biggest increase being in the West Midlands going from just 8 persons to 338 – an increase of more than 37 times of single people hit by the overall benefit cap’s swingeing 23% cut.

The latest figures say 91% of benefit-capped households get Child Tax Credit which suggests that 9% of all who are capped are childless when the October 2016 or pre OBC cut position had just under 6% so a 50% increase in the proportion of those capped are single.

That says a lot about rent levels and how unaffordable they have become yet single people are very much a NMPTY case of lack of any public sympathy compared to families with children yet this 50%+ increase cause huge knock on effects to the provision of housing and the actions of landlords in terms of allocation.  It strongly suggests the private landlord will be evicting more existing single tenants and taking much fewer new single tenants and creating a much bigger single person housing demand on social landlords just as the banning of under 22s and the shared accommodation rate policies kick in – so expect a huge upsurge in single homelessness!

It is most definitely not about numbers either…!

That leads nicely into one of the more complex arguments over the validity of the DWP figures in that many private landlords will have evicted single persons (and families) ahead of and by consequence of the reduced overall benefit cap level.  Yet these will not be recorded as victims of the benefit cap policy by local authority homeless teams, merely just as the (non-detailed) end of an assured shorthold tenancy.

It IS all about homelessness…

The homeless figures become much less detailed as to their meaningfulness unless much more detailed end of AST figures are recorded by every local councils homeless departments, which they will not be, and this also means that the reports that come out of Shelter, Crisis, JRF, Homeless Link and others will by definition be more generic and less meaningful when they simply say the ending of an AST is the main homeless driver!

Local councils will also not record homeless presentations as benefit cap when both private AND social landlords refuse to allocate a new property to a single person or family which is a huge issue given that social landlords have 385,000 new tenancies each year and statistically 36% of them would be families not hit by the pre OBC cut yet are affected now due to the £115 per week reduction in the OBC outside of London.

Specifically it is about non-existing cases and homelessness …

Well over 100,000 families will be refused social housing each year due to the reduced OBC and they go straight to the homeless queue yet will not be recorded as benefit cap victims which they will be.  As I have maintained the real key issue with the swingeing reductions to the benefit cap is NOT existing tenants, it is the refusal to accommodate new families who would have received housing if the OBC had NOT had the swingeing 23% cut an which is taken from housing benefit.

The OBC cut impacts hugely on the prospective tenant and the churn in social housing.  If my cautiously low figure of 100,000 families are refused social housing allocation due to the OBC then these 100,000 households will contain over 300,000 children who add to the yearly homeless figure.

That 300,000 yearly increase in children made homeless is just from social housing and will be doubled or more than doubled by private landlords refusing to accommodate – both out of the affordability problems that the OBC cuts directly give.

As I acknowledge there are some very complex and highly nuanced impacts of the overall benefit cap cut yet ones which are obvious and inevitable.  Landlords will be refusing OBC-hit families in their hundreds of thousands per year and they have no choice but to do so.  No landlord will accept a family who only gets £50 or less per week in housing benefit when the rent is £100 per week.  The risk is way too high and that risk applies to all social landlords not just private landlords and all can an will refuse to accommodate on affordability grounds.

No job no house is a crude saying yet it is, regrettably, very accurate.

The media focus in huge error on the numbers affected and not the consequences.  The numbers ONLY relate to existing tenants and not to future tenants and hence miss the real impact that this ill-conceived policy holds.  To focus on the numbers is extremely poor analysis and hides the consequences which are devastating.  Some of the practical problems such as recording WHY people become homeless which they will do in sharply increasing number is also missed and like any issue if you don’t figure out what the problem is then you have no chance whatsoever of solving it.

To summarise the figures are knowingly low and the real issue is not the number and to focus on the numbers is pitifully flawed analysis.  The real numbers that will matter will not be seen until December 2017 when Shelter reveal their annual figures on homelessness that does hit the public glare and when the public at least seem to care over how many children are homeless at Christmas.

If the number of children homeless at Christmas 2017 is not at least double the number at Christmas 2016 (120,000) I will stop ranting about the overall benefit cap policy and find a hat to eat.  I will be surprised it that figure is less than triple that number at 360,000 children homeless at Christmas 2017 and which will be directly the fault of the overall benefit cap.  A homeless child is a child in poverty and by whatever means you use to measure poverty and come the purported season of goodwill everyone in the country will be saying how did we let this happen.








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