Burnley families being pushed to brink of poverty by benefit cuts

Families have borne the brunt of benefit caps in Burnley over the last five years, shocking new figures have shown.
Burnley MP Julie CooperBurnley MP Julie Cooper
Burnley MP Julie Cooper

The vast majority of households affected in the town include young children, with charities warning that the cuts risk leaving families homeless or hauling them below the poverty line.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that the introduction of the benefits cap in April 2013 and February this year resulted in 179 families having their housing benefits docked in Burnley.

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Couples with children are limited to an annual income from all benefits of £20,000, or £385 a week.

Burnley MP Julie Cooper described the findings as shocking but not surprising, and said she saw evidence of this in her Burnley constituency office every week.

Mrs Cooper said: “I’m shocked but not surprised by this news. I hear constantly from my constituents how they are really struggling. They are having the rug pulled from under their feet.

“It is even more shocking that a lot of people suffering are in work. They are having to juggle three jobs just to keep their head above water.

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“For single parents, this is even harder. These cuts are causing misery for a lot of people in Burnley.

“The Government boasts that more people than ever are in work, but a lot of those people are in low paid work or zero hours contracts. This is not a cause for celebration.

“And for those out of work, I have heard from many people that they cannot even afford to travel for an interview.”

Over the last five years, 17 households in Burnley were docked more than £100 a week.

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The majority of capped claimants, 65%, were single parents with children. Couples with children accounted for a further 32% of cases.

The chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “At Shelter we hear every day from families who have been hauled below the poverty line by the cap on housing benefit, with many struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

“The cap is a cruel and ineffective way of achieving what the government claims is their aim of getting people into work, and doesn’t account for the wildly varying rent levels across the country.

“We continue to call on the government to urgently lift the cap before even more families are put at risk of homelessness.

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“But we must also see urgent action to build many more genuinely affordable homes for rent, so ordinary families can enjoy a secure future with a safe and permanent place to live.”

There are several situations in which people are exempt from the cap, including when they receive working tax credits, or claim carers’ or guardians’ allowances.

In February this year, the most recent month for which data is available, 72 families were still having their benefits capped in Burnley.

In November 2016, the limit for benefits to be capped was lowered, from £500 a week nationwide. Prior to this, only 20 families in Burnley were having their benefits capped.

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Since April 2013, over 178,000 families in Great Britain have had their benefits capped. Of those, 84% had children aged 10 and under.

The chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Terrie Alafat, said: “The benefit cap is supposed to be about fairness, but these latest statistics show it is fundamentally unfair.

“More than half of the households affected are either lone parents with a child under five or caring for a disabled relative, while another 15% are receiving employment and support allowance, meaning that they are not currently fit for work.

“The government says the cap is supposed to encourage people to move into work, but it is clear that most of the people affected will find that incredibly difficult.

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“And almost half of the households affected are losing more than £50 a week, a huge loss for families on low incomes.

“As a result, thousands of families are facing a daily struggle with some being forced to go without food or heating so they can pay for their housing, or falling behind with their rent and being put at risk of homelessness.”