With her comments on the benefits cap, Harriet Harman is voicing a Tory agenda

13 Jul 2015
Up until now Harriet Harman has been widely praised for her temporary leadership of the Labour party. But her decision to come out in favour of the benefits cap and cuts in child tax credit has dismayed even her admirers.

The benefits cap is a totally arbitrary way of cutting welfare. It has very little to do with evidence-based policy making. But it has everything to do with feeding a narrative that says millions of “scroungers” are idling around making more on benefit than they would if they worked. It is theBenefits Street view of welfare, reinforced every day with stories about so-called scroungers in the popular press. Unsurprisingly, with so much anti-claimant propaganda in the media, the public wildly overestimates just how many unemployed people are on benefits and how much they actually get.Research commissioned by the TUC, for instance, reveals that most people think that the proportion of the welfare bill going on unemployed people on welfare is 41%. The real figure is 3%. 

And the comparison between the average salary and what a family may get on welfare is a dishonest one. The average salary is for one person. The welfare payment is designed to keep an entire family. So, for the first time since the days of the workhouse, the amount you receive on welfare bears no relationship to the number of mouths you have to feed. No wonder that the government’s own civil servants have advised that 40,000 more children will fall into poverty as a result of extending the cap. The government was warned in March by the supreme court that the cap was in breach of UK’s international obligations on children’s rights; the court said “Claimants affected by the cap will, by definition, not receive the sums of money which the state deems necessary for them adequately to house, feed, clothe and warm themselves and their children”. In effect, the benefit cap punishes children born into big families in areas where rents are high.

Proponents of the benefits cap claim it is encouraging people back into work. However, the evidence for that is debatable. And Harriet does not have the heart to even pretend to believe this. Instead her argument is that welfare cuts have proved so popular with the voting public that we have no choice but to accept them. She doesn’t seem to have considered that this welfare cuts package might not be quite so popular when it has worked its way through the system and the public finds that it is affecting not just nameless “scroungers” but their own friends and family.

How did a party that once promised to end child poverty in a generation become one that will shrug and vote for measures which will force tens of thousands of children into poverty? Are we turning into the party of “No child left behind – unless your parents are poor”? And how do we expect to win in 2020 fighting on a Tory agenda?

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