By Suzi Murning

OUR social security system was built on the principle that everyone deserves support to lead a decent and dignified life. But by removing the link between need and entitlement the benefit cap has locked thousands of families across the UK into poverty and hardship.

The cap, which was introduced by the UK Government in 2013, places a limit on the total amount of social security support a family can receive, regardless of what their need is assessed to be.

When it was first introduced, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, stated, “The cap is about those who we believe should be able to go to work but are not doing so.”

The reality, however, is that the majority of people affected by the cap are not required to look for work due to ill-health or childcare responsibilities. Subjecting these families and individuals to the benefit cap knowingly and purposefully locks them into poverty when they cannot access employment to boost their income. It is morally outrageous that the people on the lowest incomes in our society are being trapped into hardship and suffering based on such flawed and unjust logic.

For people who are trying to access work, a 2020 study by the London School of Economics concluded that the benefit cap could have the unintended consequence of pushing out-of-work people even further away from the labour market, due in part to the impact the policy has on mental health.

This fact was confirmed in a recent survey conducted by the Poverty Alliance, where almost all respondents reported that the cap had led to a negative impact on their mental health, with one respondent saying: “The worry of struggling to pay bills and survive is incredibly detrimental to my health, and only worsens my condition, which in turn is taking longer for me to attempt to get back into a working life.”

It’s clear that benefit cap has failed on its own terms but, more importantly, it represents a colossal moral failure that has no place in a just society. The way the cap is designed means that some of the groups in our society already most at risk of being pulled into poverty – such as lone parents with young children (most of whom are women), larger families (who are disproportionately from black and minority ethnic backgrounds) and people who are not fit to work – are the most likely to have their support capped.

For the people across the country who are affected, the benefit cap has meant poorer mental health, an inability to afford essentials like food and heating, reliance on foodbanks, and problem debt. For some, it has even led to homelessness.

Scrapping the cap would be a significant step towards a more just society, where no one is forced into hardship. Let's give families what they need. Let's scrap the cap.

Suzi Murning is Campaigns Officer at the Poverty Alliance