The most recent round of UK Government welfare reform recently came into effect in Scotland and the rest of the UK; the “benefit cap” as it is known has been met with hostility and criticism from campaigners and activists for the impact it will have on some of the most vulnerable in society. But what exactly is the benefit cap, and what impact are we expecting to see in Edinburgh?
We all need a little help now and then, and it’s important to know where support can be found. At Citizens Advice Edinburgh we can provide support with virtually anything, enabling us to offer help and advice to thousands of local people in Edinburgh every month. For many in Scotland it’s becoming increasingly hard to get by without support of some kind, whether it’s due to difficulty in finding a job, being unable to work at all due to ill health or disability, or just difficulty in making ends meet at the end of the month.
The new benefits cap came into effect from November 2016. If you are of working age (16 to 64 years old) and in receipt of benefits, there is now a limit on the total amount of certain benefits you, or your household, can receive. The maximum one household can now receive is capped at £385 for couples, families and lone parents, and £258 for single persons. This is a drop from £500 and £350 a weekly respectively.
The cap will take into account certain benefits including Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance, and Bereavement Allowance. If these benefits exceed the weekly cap, reductions will be made to Housing Benefit and Universal Credit. This will see over 120,000 family and single households across the UK have an annual income drop to £20,000 and £13,400 and a year respectively.
These changes to social security have the potential to cause further hardship to Edinburgh residents, and to stretch the resources of the advice sector to near breaking point. Research indicates that at least 7,000 people in Scotland will be affected by this reform, exacerbating existing problems for many, and increasing demand on the advice sector to offer support. It is expected that these reforms will particularly impact lone parents and their children, pushing many into rent arrears and ultimately to risk of homelessness.
Already in Edinburgh we have seen multiple examples of lone parents, often in temporary accommodation, who have been told that their Housing Benefit will be reduced by £200-£300 in the coming weeks. This news, for many, adds additional uncertainty and stress over the future at a time of existing great difficulty.
It was hoped by the UK Government that by equalising the amount received in benefits weekly with that received through weekly employment, the cap will produce “greater incentives to work” and “reduce long-term dependency on benefits”.
The most immediate impact is, however, likely to be increased levels of stress, anxiety, and difficulty in making ends meet amongst some of the least well off and, in many cases, most vulnerable members of our communities.
The benefits cap is the most recent part of a larger movement by the current UK Government over the last two parliaments to radically reduce public spending across the UK by approximately £12 billion. Originally introduced in 2010, the caps are part of an agenda that has seen benefits rates frozen, the introduction of the heavily criticised “bedroom tax” and cuts to tax credits over the last six years targeting the least well off in society.
Citizens Advice Edinburgh will continue to offer advice and support to those affected by the UK Government’s ongoing welfare reform agenda, and will follow the impact on the people who use our services when they need them most, advocating for positive change where possible. As a local charity we depend on the support of the Edinburgh community, both from our volunteers, and members of the public who choose to support our work with monthly donations. Please visit us online to find out how you can donate and support our work today, allowing us to continue solving problems and transforming lives in Edinburgh.
Callum Ogden, Advice Services Coordinator, Citizens Advice Edinburgh