9 June 2013


A single mother living in Tottenham , who wants to be anonymous, with all the hard work of rearing seven children but not in paid work, has had her housing benefit reduced to 50 pence a week by the Government’s £500 overall benefit cap.

Tottenham is in the Borough of Haringey, which is a test-bed for that cap. The 50 pence housing benefit will be swallowed by 20% of the council tax, or £5.10 a week on band C, imposed by the Haringey council.

Her benefit income net of rent and council tax was £537.78 a week plus £245 housing benefit. The £500 cap with the council tax wipes out the housing benefit and leaves her with £277.68 to pay for food, fuel, clothing, transport and other necessities.

Her income net of council tax and rent both before and after the £500 cap are far below the level needed for a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Donald Hirsch, Director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, who leads work on Minimum Income Standards (MIS) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has estimated that the cost, net of rent and council tax, for a lone parent with three children is £458 in April 2013.

He then uses MIS to estimate that a lone parent with seven children requires at least £702 a week after rent and council tax to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living, of which the cost of food alone is £211.

£211 a week for needed by a single mother with seven children to have a healthy diet, will inevitably be reduced by the cost of fuel, clothes for seven growing children, transport and other necessities. Their health was already at risk before the cap.

The methodology used by Loughborough since 2010 includes researching the weekly cost in a supermarket of a nutritious diet based on scientific evidence, and checking the figures against what members of the public think is reasonable. It has never been challenged by government.

British governments have never based the level of statutory minimum incomes on the minimum quantities and prices in the market of the necessities needed for healthy living by individuals, families or pensioners, unlike some other developed nations.

The mother in this case has applied for a discretionary housing payment but that is temporary and only creates uncertainty for the family; uncertainty and insecurity are known to upset the children and their education.

Where this family will be housed is just as worrying. There are very few affordable properties for large families; so greater overcrowding than she experiences now in a hotel for bed and breakfast is a likely outcome.

The national economy is in trouble but there is enough wealth in the UK to fix it without retrospective legislation which hits innocent women and children so viciously.

Rev Paul Nicolson.