What a combative interviewee Mike Penning made on the Today programme. The new work and pensions minister clearly felt that given the benefit cap is the most popular policy pollsters have touched in a long while (73% support the cap in principle), he could take the presenters and the Chartered Institute of Housing, which criticises the policy in a report today, to task in the most direct way possible. ‘I’m really disappointed,’ he said, adding that the work was ‘fundamentally flawed’ and scolding the BBC for even reporting it:
‘I’m really disappointed with the work that’s been done there because it’s fundamentally flawed, and actually disappointed again with the BBC’s reporting of it this morning. Interestingly enough, only the BBC and the Guardian bothered to call us about this because the research is flawed. It doesn’t take into consideration the 16,500, at least, people that were contacted by JobCentre Plus before we brought this programme in.’
He could, though, have spun the report in a slightly different way, pointing to the finding that ‘the feared mass evictions and relocation of benefit recipients to cheaper parts of the country have not yet materialised’. This was because many claimants were relying on discretionary housing payments, which the CIH and Haringey Council, where the research was carried out, fear will run out very shortly, leading to evictions. The chances are that the government will have to increase the amount of DHP available to councils like Haringey until the claimants in question are able to find work, which will mean the cap saves a great deal less money than it was intended. The Work and Pensions department points out that it already increased this pot in July. If it continues to do so, it can help avoid those mass evictions, albeit at increased cost (better, though, than the cost of housing homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation). The report also highlighted that while ‘most claimants are likely to respond to the cap by seeking employment’, many of them are far removed from the labour market, which is not a surprise either.
What the CIH report really finds is that the £26,000 benefit cap is a symbolic rather than cost-cutting policy. It says:
‘Savings have been made to the benefit bill (around £60,000 per week). However the increased expenditure on discretionary payments to help affected households pay their rent (around £960,000 to date), the increase in intensive support provided to help claimants deal with the effects of the cap, and the imminent increase in households losing their home because they cannot pay the rent are all evidence of ‘cost shunting’ between national government budgets and from national government to local authorities and voluntary organisations.’
The cap is estimated to save £270 million a year. Increasing the DHP until tenants can either find work or move will mean it won’t save as much as intended overall, but there has been precious little evidence that it was ever intended to be a cost-cutting policy: when George Osborne announced it at the party’s autumn conference in 2010, this was about the principle of how much a workless household can receive in benefits. And because it’s something that Joe Public overwhelmingly agrees with, Penning clearly felt very politically safe indeed in doing down those critics.Tags: benefit cap, Housing, Mike Penning, UK politics, Welfare