On the Today programme this morning, newly appointed minister Mike Penning fulminated against a careful and thorough report by the Chartered Institute of Housing – and did so by reiterating claims that the benefits cap has encouraged 16,500 people into work. There’s a summary on the BBC website. The same claims, previously made by Iain Duncan Smith, have been directly condemned by the UK Statistics Authority, because they are based on figures that have not been published or subject to official scrutiny.
It’s very unlikely that they’re true, for two reasons. The first is that it’s a normal part of social security that people who have become unemployed return to work in a short time. The numbers cited in the CIH study as returning to work (10%) seem if anything to be lower than might be expected, but that may reflect the selection of particular groups (homeless people and single parents) for penalties. The second is that the estimates of people affected by the benefit cap have been consistently exaggerated – first it was going to be 80,000, then 55,000, then 40,000, and even that may prove too high. This may be a popular policy, but it’s aimed at a rare and unusual target group who when they exist do so in vanishingly small numbers.
Additional note, 9th December: 40,000 is too high. The latest figure on the cap is that 28,500 have been affected.