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More than 200,000 households subject to benefit cap as of February – DWP

·3 min read

More than 200,000 households in Britain were living with their benefits capped around the start of the year – the vast majority families with children, figures show.

The number of households subject to the benefit cap was up by 13% (24,000) in February compared to last November, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics.

It is also more than double the number of households subject to the cap in February 2020 (79,000), just before the first national coronavirus lockdown was imposed and the number of new claimants soared.

As of February 2021, 180,000 households had their Universal Credit (UC) capped and 24,000 had their housing benefit capped, the DWP said.

The most recent quarterly rise is mainly due to UC claimants being newly capped, it added.

Out of all households claiming housing benefit or UC, 2.9% had their benefits capped as of February 2021, compared with 2.7% in November 2020.

Of these, 83% were families, and 59% were single parent families.

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And 43,000 households were capped for the first time in the quarter up to February – a rise of 30% compared to the previous quarter.

The cap, which some campaigners want to see abolished, limits the total amount of benefits low-earning or non-working claimants can receive.

UC claimants are exempt if they earn at least £617 a month, and can get a nine-month grace period which exempts them if they earned at least this each month in the previous year.

Campaigners said this set of data for the first time includes people who lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic, claimed UC and have been newly capped after their grace period expired.

This number will rise as these periods continue to end, they say.

Households had their benefits capped by an average of £55 a week as of February, the DWP said.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said the cap has always been an “unjust punishment” for families.

She said: “Most families affected by it can’t work to escape it – often because they are looking after young children or can’t find affordable childcare they can combine with work and single parenting.

“Thousands more households who have lost jobs to Covid-19 are now subject to the cap, even though in the pandemic it is much harder to find ways to replace their lost earnings and become exempt.

“Especially in areas with high rents, capped families are losing large amounts of social security support and that is disastrous for the children concerned. The Government must abolish the benefit cap to prevent more children from being damaged by impoverishment.”

The CPAG estimates that abolishing the cap would lift 100,000 children out of deep poverty (below 50% of median income) and 170,000 out of very deep poverty (below 40% of median income) at a cost of £575 million.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said behind the figures are “hundreds of thousands of people battling to keep roofs over their heads”.

He added: “We desperately need a strategy to provide the genuinely affordable homes needed to end homelessness, as well as more financial support for the hundreds of thousands of renters in arrears, to help them back from the brink.

“The UK Government must also make people who are rough sleeping or stuck in temporary accommodation permanently exempt from the benefit cap, to give them a chance to end their homelessness for good.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The benefit cap, up to the equivalent salary of £28,000 in London, ensures fairness for hard-working taxpaying households and a strong work incentive, while also providing a much needed safety net of support.

“The proportion of households impacted remains low in comparison to the overall number claiming Universal Credit even after the temporary uplift to Universal Credit and increases to Local Housing Allowance rates.”

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