The government’s new ‘benefit cap’, introduced on Monday, is set to affect hundreds of Oxford families this winter. The move to bring household welfare payments down from £26,000 to £20,000 a year, outside of London, has been described by the government as “a clear incentive to move into a job.” It is estimated that the new policy will cumulatively cut benefit payments in Oxford by £1.1 million, and have an impact on up to 1,000 working age families.
The cap applies to welfare supplements such as Bereavement Allowance, Child Benefit, Income Support, Maternity Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit. Other benefi ts such as War Pensions, Disability Living Allowance, and Carer’s Allowance have been ruled out of the £20,000 calculation.
Opponents of the move have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ decision to include Housing Benefit in the cap. Despite the higher limit of £23,000 in London, Councillor Susan Brown said that the high cost of living in Oxford is “a fact not recognised at all by the government in their calculations.”
Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford, told Cherwell, “If central government wanted to improve peoples’ lives, then rather than introduce benefi t caps it would introduce rent regulation. This would save government a huge amount of money by reducing the housing benefit bill. It would also save all private renters a great deal of money in future, including many students in Oxford. A few landlords would not be as rich as they currently are.”
“In much of Europe and many states of the USA rent regulations help keep rents low and government subsidies to private landlords are then much reduced. There is also less of a housing crisis where rent regulation exists. But some of the rich do lose out. The welfare bill is mainly as high as it is today because private rents are so high and there is now so little social housing—especially in Oxford.”
Damian Green, Work and Pensions Secretary, said, “We are ensuring the values of this government continue to chime with those of ordinary working people and delivering on our commitment to make sure work pays more than welfare.
“I think people recognise there’s something wrong about families able to get more on benefits than the average family can earn by going out to work.”
A Downing Street spokesmen made clear that the cap will not rise either with inflation or otherwise before 2020.
Rehana Azam, national secretary for the GMB union, said: “Food prices are going up—and the evidence shows that single parents were already skipping meals to provide for their children, even before this latest attack.”
Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, said, “Despite Theresa May’s warm words on the steps of No 10, when she said she wanted to help families who are ‘just managing’, she is allowing the reduction of the so-called ‘benefit cap’ to go ahead.
“She talks the talk, but when it comes to it, this is the same old Tory ideologically driven agenda that hits the poorest in our society to pay for their failed austerity plan.”
The Oxford University Labour Club opposes the new benefi t cap, and told Cherwell, “These changes will save money whilst meaning that those who require the most support are no longer able to receive it—it makes vulnerable people worse off without making anybody better off .” The cap will also affect single people without children, reducing their annual payments to £13,400 a year outside of London.
Oxford’s Welfare Support Team can now be contacted at 01865 252755.
The Oxford University Conservative Association and Oxford East Conservatives were contacted for comment.