There was uproar in the Commons yesterday when MPs heard the Lords had voted against the Coalition's Welfare Bill to cap benefits at £26,000 per annum. Labour peers said they supported the principle of a cap but along with others they voted to change the legislation to exclude child benefit.
Listening to the debate over the weekend I was surprised to hear Iain Duncan Smith say:
‘The public thinks that homelessness is about not having any reasonable accommodation to go to.
‘That is not the definition. The definition inside government and places like Shelter is that children have to share rooms.
‘For most people who are working, their children share rooms. They would find that a strange definition.’
Shelter insist that is not the definition and it uses the same definition of homelessness as set out in the Housing Act 1996.
Officials later said that a house could be seen as 'overcrowded' if a girl and a boy, both older than ten, were sharing a room. Overcrowding can be a reason for giving a family a new home.
I support the benefits cap because I know families where the income is below £35,000 and they manage without claiming from the state. Benefits should be there to ensure those who fall on hard times do not suffer unduly, but work should always be more rewarding. There will always be the vulnerable in our society who require continual help and they must be given every assistance possible, but for those who don't work there has to be a limit to how much the taxpayer can provide.
People are correct when they say that the cap may price benefit recipients out of certain areas, but working people are priced out of those areas too. The state has a responsibility to ensure that people in need are housed, fed and clothed, but they don't have the right to live wherever they want.
If the Coalition is serious about helping people into work, upping the personal allowance for those at the lower end of the salary scale would help those currently in work and encourage others to enter the workplace. So often I hear 'there are no jobs' and there are those who think it's the government's responsibility to provide them with a job, but that is unrealistic. If thousands of economic migrants can find work then it is available. The work may be low paid but then it's usually unskilled.
In the UK there are plenty further education institutions that offer skill training and we also have the Open University which provides free courses to those on benefits. There's no reason why many long-term benefit claimants, who are fit for work, cannot upgrade their skills.
My sympathies at the moment are with those hard working families in which a parent has lost their job because of the continuing recession. Family income has been halved, or in one case I know reduced to a third, and because he is highly skilled in a specific area, there is little hope of him gaining similar employment in the near future. However he refuses to be defeated and recently purchased a trailer for his car because he intends to become a jobbing gardener until he can find a position within his own industry. Knowing how the weather can affect this type of work, he has registered for an OU course in order to show future employees he hasn't been idle. This family may well have to move house to a cheaper area but they're not complaining. "We have our health and that's what matters most," I was told.
Because of the unlimited benefits available here for so long, too many people have lost the ability of taking responsibility for themselves. We have a benefits culture, of that there is no doubt, and there have to be changes. Capping the system at £26,000 - with allowances for those who have complex needs - is a start. Raising the threshold of the personal tax allowance should be next in line.