Is benefits cap fair or misguided?

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Britain’s welfare state, the brainchild of economist William Beveridge, was first introduced in 1948 but as a nation we have been supporting those who are out of work since the Poor Laws of the late 1500s.

Today there are more than 50,000 people in Northamptonshire claiming benefits ranging from Jobseeker’s Allowance to support for single parents. This equates to 12.2 per cent of the county’s population.

But those who are on benefits are often given a bad press.

Former Prime Minster Tony Blair once said that the welfare state is “associated with fraud, abuse, laziness, a dependency culture, social irresponsibility encouraged by welfare dependency”.

The Government is currently trying to introduce welfare reforms that would cap benefits at £26,000 a year, which it says is the equivalent of a £35,000 salary before tax.

The cap was last week defeated by a vote in the House of Lords but with the Bill due to be disussed again by MPs this week the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith says the Government will continue to push them through.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “There has to be a limit on the amount of money benefit claimants can receive.

“We think that limit is set at a fair rate of £26,000 – the equivalent to someone earning £35,000 before tax, a salary that many working families would be happy to receive.

“We are determined our reforms will be implemented in full.”

If passed, the benefit cap proposals would come into effect in April, 2013, and would ensure households on out-of-work benefits will not receive more than the average household weekly wage.

It applied to combined income from the main out-of-work benefits including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.

The plans are expected to save the Government £290m in 2013/14 and £330m in 2014/15.

But what do members of the public think of the proposed reforms? We asked people who are in work and those claiming benefits for their views.

THOSE WHO WORK...

Father-of-two Frank Finlay works up to 90 hours a week to support his wife and two children.

His wife stays at home with their youngest child, who is 18 months old, because the couple cannot afford childcare.

Mr Finlay, 26, of Kettering, says benefits should be capped at a lot less than £26,000 for those who do not work. He said: “I was raised on a run-down council estate and the majority of people I grew up with in my teens openly bragged about having another kid to get a bigger council house and more benefits.

“I’ve worked for everything I own, I’ve just finished my 12th 14-and-a-half-hour shift in a row and finally get two days off before I’m back on it. But at least I can sleep easy knowing that I make a contribution to society.

“I have no issues with my tax dollars helping people with genuine disabilities and child benefit for low-income families with a genuine reason for not being able to support themselves. I do take issue with providing a comfortable lifestyle for the lazy and immoral scroungers in the country.”

Nixi Perrin and her partner both work full-time and after saving hard for three years have just managed to get a mortgage for a house.

They would love to have children but have decided this is something they cannot afford at the moment.

The 24-year-old, of Rothwell, said: “It does make me sick when I see people my age and younger who have children and are out every weekend, always have the newest phone, computer, 3D TV, brand new clothes and holidays, having never done a day’s work in their life with a house paid for by taxpayers’ money. There is too much of an incentive to not work and have children to get a free house and benefits. People who work hard should be rewarded, not the other way round.

“More needs to be done to support lower income families who work but whose jobs don’t pay enough to meet the ever-rising bills. If we saved the money from these needless benefits we could give it to our elderly, truly disabled and vulnerable people in society who often get overlooked.”

Catherine Roberts, of Kettering, says she continued to work even while having radiotherapy for cancer.

She took some time off after surgery to recover but found there was little financial support for someone in her situation.

She said: “It really does make my blood boil that I am working though cancer treatment to pay for the benefits of the workshy.

“We need to put the system back to what it was designed for – a safety net for the hard-working, not a featherbed for the bone-idle.”

THOSE ON BENEFITS...

There may be a perception that young mothers are happy to claim benefits and stay at home with their child, but some would love the chance to go back to work.

Liz Line, of Rushden, who is currently claiming benefits, says the extortionate cost of childcare was the only reason she was unable to get a job.

Liz, who receives £10,000 a year in benefits, said: “I struggled for three years to get a job because childcare for two young kids is pretty much impossible. I can only do the job I have just got because it is evening work so the kids will go to their dad’s house overnight.

“The Jobcentre worked out I would be £70 better off working, but with two young children in childcare I would have been paying out more than £70 a week.

“Some people really are better off on benefits and it’s those reasons that should be addressed if we want more people to work.”

Single mum Rayne Browne, of Higham Ferrers, agrees.

She said: “The biggest problem for people in my situation is it costs much more to get out and work than for me to stay at home. We need a regular income for rent, taxes, food, gas, electric and so on.

“If I went out to work now I’d have to find a job that could afford all of that plus the extra £200 per week that childcare would cost. It is not worth my time right now, and certainly not in this economic climate.

“The attitude that all single mothers have luxuries is narrow-minded and inconsiderate. I would rather have gas in the meter and food in the fridge than have the latest of everything. I have a pay-as-you-go phone that gets £5 credit a month and I have a basic Virgin Media package because there is no Freeview signal where I live.”

Jane Griffiths claimed benefits while her children were growing up as she was divorced and she says it was incredibly hard to get by financially.

Jane, of Wellingborough, said: “I never found the finances easy – I had to clean the most disgusting factories to get some extra money for Christmas and I did not have a holiday for years.

“So no, don’t cap benefits. Leave the unemployed alone, most want to work.”