I see one of the most hated MP for Labour has come out with fight talk over benefit cap but most people in my circle of friends are asking how long will this will last and who will have the last laugh Liam Byrne or Iain Duncan Smith.
Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Iain Duncan Smith is having to make things up as he goes along because his policies are failing. Even the [DWP] report he hides behind makes absolutely clear that there is no evidence for his claims. It is simply incredible that the Work and Pensions Secretary thinks it is acceptable to operate his department on guess work and blind faith.”
Labour seized on the small print of a Department of Work and Pensions progress report issued as the welfare cap, which has been trialled in four London boroughs, was rolled out nationally from on Monday. It said: “This analysis is confined to correlation and does not show causation”.
The qualifying statement follows a rebuke for Mr Duncan Smith’s previous claim about the number of people taking jobs as a result of the benefits ceiling. In May, he was criticised by the independent UK Statistics Authority.
On Monday, his department cited a poll it commissioned by Ipsos MORI of 500 people who were told their state handouts would be capped. The survey found that 61 per cent of the group now in work found their current job after being told about the cap. But critics said there was no proof that they would not have found work anyway or that the policy was responsible. In Haringey, one of the trial areas, only 30 of the 734 claimants affected by the ceiling are said to be in work.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This polling only demonstrates the paucity of evidence for the benefit cap. [It] reflects the fact that most people hit by the cap have worked and will soon work again. It’s also unhelpful for public policy and quite misleading to the public for the spin to run ahead of the facts through repeating dodgy claims about the effect of the policy on people moving into work when the evidence is clearly not there to back up these claims.”
An unrepentant Mr Duncan Smith accused the BBC of “seeking out lots of cases from people who are politically motivated”. He clashed with John Humphrys, presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme, who reminded him of the Statistics Authority’s ticking off. Mr Duncan Smith replied: “No. What they [the Statistics Authority] said was that you can’t absolutely prove that those two things are connected.”
Mr Humphrys then quoted the independent authority as saying the minister’s statement was “unsupported by the official statistics published by your own department”. Mr Duncan Smith replied: “Yes, but by the way you can’t disprove what I said either.”
“You can make any claim on that basis,” Mr Humphrys replied.
“Well, I am. I believe this to be right. I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work who were not going to go back to work until they were short of the cap,” Mr Duncan Smith countered.
He told Mr Humphrys: “What you’re doing, as always in the BBC, you’re seeking out lots of cases from people who are politically motivated to say this is wrong … The fact is that people will not be earning more than average earnings sitting out of work unless they are in exempt categories.”
The Work and Pensions Secretary claimed that predictions that the benefit cap would lead to thousands of people becoming homeless had not materialised. “The homeless figures have hardly moved at all,” he said.
He also rejected claims that the ceiling would force families to move out of London. “The vast majority of the areas in London – a third of all rentable accommodation in the private sector – is available for those who are on social rents,” he said.
But Ruth Davison, director of the National Housing Federation, warned: “In many parts of the country, families won’t be able to pay high private rents because of the cap. There will be more demand for than ever for affordable housing, particularly in Greater London where nearly half (49 per cent) of the people affected by the benefit cap live.”
She added: “Families could face the stark choice of cutting back on essentials or having to move away long distances from their support networks to look for cheaper places to live. Until we see a long-term affordable housebuilding programme that will drive down the price of rents for everybody, housing costs should be removed from the cap.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has spoken out to defend the new benefits cap of £500 a week being rolled out across Britain on Monday.
The benefits cuts have already been implemented in the London boroughs of Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley since April this year.
Sanctions on Job Seekers Allowance and the introduction of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ will come into effect immediately.
The new welfare measures, which Mr Duncan Smith argues is based around the income of an average household, will ensure couples and lone parents do not receive more than £500 a week, with single people limited to £350 a week.
Mr Duncan Smith said a “very, very significant number” of people had gone out to work in households within the four London boroughs already affected by the cap.
“In fact, what the Jobcentre staff have told us as we have been going round is that they have seen a genuine increase since they have alerted people to the fact that they are likely to be in the cap,” he told BBC Breakfast.
He added: “This is both about saving money and, more particularly, about changing a culture that had left families, particularly large families, finding it easy and a reality for their lives to stay out of work on taxpayers’ benefits.”
He also rejected suggestions that jobs were not available for claimants who wanted to go back to work.
“The private sector has been providing jobs. Every week something like half a million new jobs are in the jobcentres and out in the universal job match that we have now produced,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I believe that we are already seeing people go back to work who were not going to go back to work until they were informed of the cap. I believe that this will show, as we go forward, that people who were not seeking work are now seeking work because that is the way to avoid the cap.”
He hit back at presenter John Humphrys who challenged him over comments by the leader of Haringey Council, who said that 740 families in the borough had been severely financially disadvantaged by the cap but only 34 family members had found work.
He accused Mr Humphrys and the BBC of “seeking out lots of little cases from people who are politically motivated to say that this is wrong,” he said, something he argued the BBC “always” does.
“The key principle behind this all over the country is that those who work, those who are trying to do the best in their households, do not see others who are down the road, who are on benefits, on welfare, actually getting more than they do,” he said.
Mr Duncan Smith said the “greatest effect” of the benefits cap would occur within London and the South East.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, accused the Government of trying to use a “blunt instrument” to solve a complex problem.
“The debate around this cap has focused solely on workless adults, but the reality is that children are seven times more likely than adults to lose out,” he said.
“140,000 children, compared to 60,000 adults, will pay the price as parents have less to spend on food, clothing and rent.
“And almost half the adults affected will have children aged four or younger, and would find it extremely difficult to be in work, even if they could afford childcare which can cost as much as £100 per child per week.
“Families, especially in London where the cap is being launched, will have their lives disrupted as they are forced to find cheaper rents in other parts of the country, resulting in children having to leave behind their schools, friends and breaking vital support networks.
“We fully support efforts to make work pay.
“But it is not right to do this by putting more children on the breadline. Instead, the Government should do more to help families by tackling the sky high rents in some parts of the UK and making childcare affordable.”
Disability Living Allowance, the Personal Independence Payment and other benefits such as widower’s pensions will not be subjected to the cap.
The Department for Work and Pensions argue that these measures will save £110million a year. The cap is not yet law in Northern Ireland.