All in all ... the 'benefits cap'

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Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole looks at the likely impact of the benefits cap

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Last month (on 15 April), the benefits cap came into force in four London boroughs (Croydon, Bromley, Haringey and Enfield) with a view to it being rolled out in England, Wales and Scotland from July, with Northern Ireland likely to follow suit.

What is the 'benefits cap'?

The cap is a limit on the amount of money families may receive in benefits from the state.

For couples and lone parents, the cap will be set at £500 per week, regardless of how many children they have, and for single people the cap is £350.

The benefit cap will save the Government money - about £110m in the first year - but the Government's policy is primarily motivated by the view that out-of-work families should not receive more money from benefits than families who work. The stated aim of the benefit cap is to motivate people to find work.

How many people will be affected?

The Government thinks that around 40,000 households will be affected and will lose around £62 a week.

The impact of the changes is uncertain but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that, in the short term, families will most certainly become poorer and in the longer term, they may have to move into overcrowded homes, move areas or even become homeless. Gingerbread, a charity which campaigns on behalf of single parents, has criticised the policy saying '[the] cap doesn't begin to tackle the underlying problems of the shortage of low-cost social housing'.

The impact on children

The introduction of the benefits cap is another example of benefit reform that will directly impact on children's lives. If families are forced to move areas, children will have to leave schools and communities.

As family budgets tighten, school trips and other activities will become unaffordable and families will struggle to meet basic needs for food and clothing. Children's long-term futures are also at risk as low family income is strongly linked to poor educational outcomes.

The Government's stated aim is to create a policy that is 'fair', but for a child unable to go to on an educational visit or to attend Rainbows or, even, to have a pair of shoes that fit, they will, no doubt, say, 'It's not fair.'

Dr Katherine Runswick-Cole is a research fellow in Disability Studies and Psychology, Research Institute for Health and Social Change, Manchester Metropolitan University

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