There’s an old joke. A man is painting white lines on the pavement, and when he’s asked why he says it’s to keep the elephants away. When he’s told there aren’t any elephants, he says, “so it’s working”. The benefits cap was introduced to stop claimants receiving more than the average wage. I am sure there must somewhere be claimants who receive large sums of money, even if I’ve never come across them myself; in any system dealing with millions of people in diverse circumstances, almost any contingency, no matter how unusual, will happen somewhere. There just won’t be many of them. The DWP had estimated that there would be 67,000 people affected by the cap, from something between five and six million people on the benefits affected. Now it is being reported that the actual figures will be ‘dramatically’ lower. (Update, 12th April: the new estimate has been released, at 40,000.) It seems that most people who have been on high benefits because of high commitments return to work. What a surprise: nine out of ten unemployed people leave benefits within a year in normal circumstances.
Part of the purpose of benefits is to provide social protection, and to smooth the incomes of people whose lives would otherwise be disrupted. That’s why some people on benefits have cars and satellite dishes – they are not expected to sell them because they’ve hit a rocky patch. Neither the current government, nor its predecessor, has seemed to understand the basic principle.