The government’s proposal to cap the total amount a household can receive in benefits seems to have caused some confusion, among opponents as well as proponents. The cap gives the impression that benefits are much more generous than they are; the DWP estimate is that this will affect 67,000 claims out of 5.5 million. Neither disability, nor having a large family, would be enough to explain why some people might have an income level over £26,000 a year. The main element in the calculation has to be coverage for housing costs, either in the form of rent or interest on mortgage repayments.
The government has said that no-one will be poor because of the cap. That must be true, because if poverty is defined in terms of median income, anyone receiving median earnings (which are higher) is going to be defined as not being poor. The misleading part of the statement rests in the assumption that benefits are only there to respond to poverty. One of the fundamental principles of social security is captured in the word “security”; it’s about social protection. People who become sick, disabled or divorced should not have to strip themselves of assets in order to claim benefits. People who live in expensive houses are not forced to move out of them – or have not been up to now.