Middle class in uproar – but it’s the poorest who lose out the most – again…

This week the simmering rage over who will bear the brunt of the Coalition Governments’ cuts came to the boil, with the Chancellor’s announcement of further benefit cuts.

This time, the middle classes were in the firing line – if the media was to be believed. Yet amidst all the uproar over cuts to Child Benefit, the biggest losers were – again – families on benefits, with some set to lose up to £4,500 a year, and many more seeing their homes put at risk.

But you wouldn’t know this by reading the newspaper headlines this week….

Middle class in uproar as families pay for cutbacks

The media storm that followed George Osborn’s surprise announcement on Tuesday focussed almost entirely on the cuts to Child Benefit – with hardly a word about the impact of cuts to families on benefits.

The normally Tory-friendly Daily Mail turned on the Chancellor for “penalising the traditional family unit of a man working hard as a breadwinner and a mother bringing up their children at home to be responsible, balanced citizens”.  Or as they put it: “It is the middle-class British family that is baring (sic) the brunt of bringing the nation back into the black.”

‘Super Spongers’ in the firing line..

So what of the Chancellor’s other announcement? From 2013, families will receive a maximum of £500 a week in benefits regardless of their size…

In contrast to the crescendo of criticism of the Child Benefit cuts from within the Conservative faithful and their favourite newspapers, the reaction to these cuts were sadly more predictable:

On Wednesday, the ever sympathetic Daily Star put it succinctly:

BENEFITS SUPER SPONGERS MOAN THEY CAN’T SURVIVE IF CASH IS SLASHED TO £500 A WEEK

SPONGERS and benefit charities have moaned George Osborne’s cull of the super scroungers is “just not fair”. Feckless layabouts reckon the cuts would mean “we won’t be able to live in our nice homes anymore”.

And not to be outdone, Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt chipped in with his now well reported comments on Newsnight: “The number of children that you have is a choice and what we’re saying is that if people are living on benefits, then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices. It’s not going to be the role of the state to finance those choices.”

What this translates into is some 50,000 families losing – on the Government’s own estimates – an average of £93 a week (or over £4,500 a year).  To put this in perspective, this cut is almost double – in cash terms – what a family with three child on £44,000 (or more) a year will lose.

As Lizzie Iron, head of welfare at Citizens Advice said: “Coming as it does on top of the cuts to housing benefit announced in June’s emergency budget, a cap of £500 a week on household benefits will price many low income families out of living in London and the south-east of England altogether, and if it goes ahead will inevitably lead to widespread hardship, debt and homelessness.”

Donald Hirsch, a poverty expert at the Centre for Research in Social Policy in Loughborough, put it in starker terms: “This is unprecedented: it is the first time entitlement has been divorced from need. However mean we have been in this country with our benefits system in the past, it has always been proportional to need. We don’t ask people how they acquired those needs.”

Paloma Johnston: Far from the tabloid myth

George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt have clearly fallen for (or deliberately chosen to play up) the tabloid caricature of the ‘typical benefit family’ having anything upwards of half a dozen children, living the life of reily in a swanky central London bijoux pad.

Let’s get the facts straight: Of the 5.7 million families in the UK who receive some degree of child or working tax credit:

  • 75% (4.3 million) are in work
  • 20% (1.2 million) are out of work and have 1 or 2 children
  • 5% (220,000) are out of work and have 3 or 4 children
  • 0.7% (43,000) are out of work and have five or more children.[i]

So Mr Hunt’s moral fervour is directed at less than 0.7% of all families claiming some form of benefits… But, as the trusty Amelia Gentleman revealed in the Guardian, the reality is somewhat different:

Some time next April, Paloma Johnston, a single mother with two children under four, will see her monthly benefit payments cut by about £180, making it impossible for her to continue paying the rent on her small, two-bedroom flat in central London.

“I cried when I heard about the changes. I have no idea what I’m going to do,” she says.

Since last August she has been renting a compact two-bedroom flat in a Victorian terraced street in Queen’s Park, west London, from a private landlord for £335 a week. From next April, the cut to her Housing Benefit will leave her with a monthly shortfall of £180.

“I won’t be able to afford the rent so I think my landlord will ask me to leave – but I have nowhere else to go,” she says.”I try not to think about it too much otherwise it’s too upsetting. I really want stability for my children, and to be able to plan ahead for them – choose the right schools and nurseries for them. I’m dreading what’s going to happen to us.”


[i] HM Revenue and Customs, cited in Guardian, 14 October 2010

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