DWP has been lying about cruel benefit cap

DWP Jobcentre Queue with the DWP benefits Logo
Support us and go ad-free

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been lying about reviewing the controversial benefit cap.

The Tory/Lib Dem coalition government brought in the benefit cap in 2013. It restricts how much money the DWP gives social security claimants. The cap is currently:

  • “£20,000 per year (or £13,400 for single adults with no children) nationally”.
  • “£23,000 per year (£15,410 for single adults with no children) in Greater London”.

The DWP is claiming it can only review this cap once per parliament, which is simply not true. On top of this, the cap is affecting nearly 300,000 children, with more set to be living under it by next year.

The benefit cap

People have heavily criticised the benefit cap – the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said of it:

In April 2022, capped families in London saw the real value of their benefits fall by £2,070 as inflation hit 9 per cent – a 40-year high – and their benefits didn’t increase at all. The ceiling created by the benefit cap hasn’t increased since it was introduced in 2013. In fact it was lowered to its current level in 2016.

Almost all capped families are in deep poverty, with many at risk of homelessness and falling into debt to pay for essentials even before the recent price increases.

Now, the DWP has said that it may review the cap. But this is not the full story.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

DWP: “statutory duty”

In response to a question from Labour about when the DWP last reviewed the benefit cap, DWP minister David Rutley said:

There is a statutory [legal] duty to review the levels every parliament. The last time the benefit cap was reviewed was November 2016.

Labour’s question is timely – at the end of June, DWP boss Therese Coffey said she may review the benefit cap levels. This was due to the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’. At the time, Coffey stated that:

We do have this statutory duty – I think I’ve had some advice because now we no longer have the Fixed-term Parliaments Act on exact timing – I’m slightly concerned as to whether we have a real reflection of life, but I’m getting some advice on that.

This is similar to what another DWP minister said last year. They stated on record that:

There is a statutory duty to review the benefit cap levels once in each Parliament, unless an early election is called. As such, the review will happen at the appropriate time, yet to be determined by the Secretary of State, which must currently be by December 2024.

The law matches this – kind of.

Legal rules

Buried in the detail of the law surrounding the benefit cap are rules surrounding when the DWP should review it. The law states that it must be reviewed once each parliament. In theory, this would mean that since 2016 it should have reviewed it at some point between the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

The DWP has a get-out clause – the law also states that an early general election cancels the benefit cap review. So, that means that the 2017 and 2019 general elections did this; at the time, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was still in place. This is why the DWP is saying it doesn’t have to review the benefit cap until December 2024.

But this isn’t strictly true, either – within the law, the DWP has another option.

The DWP can review the benefit cap when it wants

The law states that the DWP boss:

may, at any other time… [they consider] appropriate, review the sums specified in section 96(5A) to determine whether it is appropriate to increase or decrease any one or more of those sums.

That is, Coffey could review the benefit cap whenever she wants. Plus, the DWP has also said that any changes following the review would be “subordinate legislation” (secondary legislation). This means the government can just do them quickly without a vote in parliament.

So, Coffey is literally choosing not to review the benefit cap.

A cruel DWP policy

Currently, around 120,000 households are affected by the benefit cap. This includes nearly 300,000 children. As The Canary previously reported, it:

was keeping around 150,000 children in poverty as of 2020.

Households hit by the cap lose around £50 a week. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says another 35,000 families could be subject to it by April 2023.

For the DWP to pretend it can only review the cap once per parliament is incompetent at best – and at worst, a lie. Of course, the DWP has form on lying – given it did similar over increasing benefits, incorrectly claiming it couldn’t due to its IT systems.

Coffey should review the cap right now. But even if she did, the policy would still be cruel to the countless people affected.

Featured image via the Guardian – YouTube and Wikimedia 

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us