A 1% Benefits Cap Will Not Build a Fairer Britain

This post is written by Paul Hindley, Member of the Social Liberal Forum and the Liberal Democrats from Blackpool, and recently graduated from Lancaster University.

A few days ago, Parliament voted on the second reading of a bill, to place a 1% cap on the rise of welfare benefits. A 1% benefits cap will hit the income of the poorest and most vulnerable people in British society. According to the BBC and the DWP, by 2015, over 5 million households could be £150 worse off annually, with a further 2 million households being over £250 worse off each year. That may only amount to a few pounds a week, but at this time of austerity a few pounds a week could have a very real impact on the budgets of poor families. The benefits cap could put into hardship, those families who are on the edge of poverty. This also fails to take into account the cuts to the social services that many poor people rely on and the rising price of food. 

Although Britain currently faces many economic difficulties, it cannot be right that we balance the books on the backs of the poorest. This policy will directly take money away from those who most need it. What is almost as bad as this policy is the discourse that surrounds it. The notion of “shirkers versus strivers” is deplorable. It smacks of social division and only seeks to vilify those who fall on tough times. People who claim benefits should not be the subject of our vilification, but of our compassion.

The Liberal Democrats should have no time for any policy that actively seeks to make the poor poorer in real terms. As the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution says; the “Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard” a society where no one is “enslaved by poverty.” We Liberal Democrats should also not forget our historical commitments to social justice. It was after all the social liberal, William Beveridge who first outlined the Welfare State in 1942.

Social Liberals understand that the freedom from poverty is as important as the traditional freedoms such as the freedom to speak or the freedom to vote. It is up to Social Liberals to make the dual case, for the freedom of the individual and social justice. More often than not you cannot have one without the other. The Liberal Democrats should therefore actively try and narrow the gap between the rich and poor, it should certainly not be allowed to get any wider. A 1% benefits cap will widen that gap further. Social justice is needed now in Britain more than ever and the Liberal Democrats should champion its cause.

We must not be afraid to defend our legacy of social liberalism, which is the legacy of individuals such as William Beveridge, John Maynard Keynes and David Lloyd George. If Liberal Democrats do not stand up for the Welfare State from within government who will? A Conservative Party that has no commitment to fairness? A Labour Party confined to the opposition benches? Only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to promote a free and socially just society. The 1% benefits cap is in itself a social injustice and the Liberal Democrats should waste no time in opposing it.

Posted in blog archive, Uncategorized
4 comments on “A 1% Benefits Cap Will Not Build a Fairer Britain
  1. Joe Otten says:

    I fully take the point that this is one of the toughest of the tough decisions.

    But there is a danger of inconsistency here, particularly for opponents of relative poverty. The fact is that wages have been flat for some years, and benefits have been rising with inflation. Therefore, in relative poverty terms, people on benefits are somewhat better off today than they were in, say, 2008.

    We don’t of course go round saying that recession is good for equality – that would be crass. Recession is a bad thing. My explanation for why it is a bad thing involves job losses and people struggling to get by because their buying power is limited i.e. poverty not inequality.

    I wonder sometimes if the call for greater equality of outcome, made when the economy is growing, is not to be taken literally but is rather code for the point that we should still care about poverty, and not assume that a rising tide will lift all boats.

  2. Andrew Toye says:

    “Only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to promote a free and socially just society” – but it seems that only a handful of Lib Dem MPs can be trusted do so in the voting lobbies of Parliament. Well done to those MPs who stood by the manifesto and the coalition agreement not to penalise the poor and vulnerable. Shame on the rest of them.

  3. Brian Dash says:

    When we say a decision is “tough” what do we mean? Could I suggest that it is politically tough which indicates a disconnect between the politician and the welfare recipients. For them it is, in many/most(?) cases, devastating. It means a real terms ongoing income reduction for people virtually without discetionary spending power. It is wrong by all the standards we set ourselves. Meanwhile the affluent require tax incentives to create wealth

  4. Nigel Jones says:

    It is a shame that not all our MPs are acting against the present conservative views on welfare. The cut in housing benefit has made my blood boil. Just before Christmas I heard from a church in London the names of 6 capable people who have been made homeless as a direct result of this particular cut. This makes a mockery of Nick Clegg’s claim that we are working to ‘enable everyone to get on in life’.
    I think there is a case for not having the blanket rise of 5% or inflation, but the problem lies with the centralised methods used to direct benefit payments. Is it not time for us to start thinking seriously of devolving much of the individual decision-making on benefits to local authorities and other agencies who are much nearer the people. For example, I have recently known a few people for whom it was right to persuade/enforce them to move to a smaller house, thus enabling a family to get a suitable place. On the other hand, there are some people for whom financial persuasion only serves to make their situation worse and has a detrimental effect on any children involved. Furthermore, the situation varies a great deal around the country, from area to area. The existence of foodbanks shows how the centralised system goes wrong and cannot react quickly enough to alleviate people’s problems.
    Cllr. Nigel Jones

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