At the labour conference last week, Ed Miliband said that Labour will not oppose things we agree with, and a cap on benefits seems, at first to be something which every person can agree on. After all, why should someone on benefits get more than the average family? The devil, as always, is in the detail.
The headline figure given is £26,000 per year, and quite reasonably it excludes people on DLA and war widows, as well as excluding non-cash benefits such as free school meals. But the real problem is in limited it to a family. As the Child Benefit furore shows, there are many families where both parents work – £26,000 is the average salary for one person – NOT for a family. The statistic average household income seems to be hard to find. The benefits should be restricted so that the cap is at the average household income. Plus, this is to be a figure applied equally across the country. In many parts of the country, such a figure will be too high – meaning that few if any people will be affected. Where it will have its biggest effect is in some of our large inner-city areas, especially London.
The figure for benefits includes Housing benefit, and the cost of this is not something the claimant family can have control over. In most of inner London, the cost of housing is eye-watering, and many ordinary people can only live there by claiming housing benefit. For many families who through no fault of their own find themselves claiming benefits, this alone will put them over the £26,000 limit. They will then have a choice – move somewhere else, or starve. The effect of this will be to push the poor, the sick and the unemployed out of central London. It will be social engineering on a scale unseen since the Second World War, and will achieve legally something which Westminster council tried in the 1980’s illegally.
It will turn the inner cities from Labour strongholds into Tory marginals, and permanently change the electoral makeup of the country. At a stroke, this policy will have the effect of giving the Tories a natural majority in the House of Commons.
What to do? Just oppose for the sake of it? No. The obvious answer is to suggest that instead of making an arbitrary national cap, to make it one relevant to each local authority area. That way, the cap will be larger in inner London, where salaries are traditionally higher to provide for the bigger cost of accommodation, and lower in the poorer areas of the country where housing is relatively cheap. For instance the cap in Angus could be £20,256, the median salary here, whilst in Camden it would be £33,351. Now that’s something to which no reasonable person could object to, surely?