What happens to children caught by the benefit cap?

Posted by Abigail Gill / Monday 03 February 2014 / Cost of living

For months we have been worried about the potential impact of the benefit cap on vulnerable children. Our research, based on freedom of information requests, bears out our concerns.

There are more that 175,000 children in England affected by the benefit cap.These children live in families that have had their benefits capped at £500 per week, regardless of their needs or circumstance.

Amongst those 175,000 children, are many with additional needs and in receipt of specialist care. Those classed as children-in-need are the ones who have been referred to social services because they have experienced abuse or neglect, or are disabled. They are the children who need extra help and support. We wanted to know how they had been affected by the cap. 

  1. Only 10% of the authorities we spoke to know how many children-in-need are affected by the cap.

If local authorities don’t know how many children-in-need are affected by the cap, how can we be sure that they’re being offered the correct support? Support needs may be different or more urgent as their household income drops. The difficulties they already face may only become more urgent. 

  1. Children’s services and housing departments aren’t always working together.

Only 31% of unitary, metropolitan or borough councils could identify joint working in response to the cap. Yet that’s essential if children’s services are to know which families have been affected by the cap.

Our research did also uncover good examples of cross-departmental working. One London borough has established a ‘Welfare Reform Practical Support Team’ to liaise with families on a one-to-one basis. The team also makes sure that social workers are notified if the families they work with are affected by the cap. 

  1. Too many families subject to the benefit cap are placed in temporary accommodation.

Over 78,000 children or expected children were in temporary accommodation as of September 2013. These homeless families are subject to the benefit cap.

Some of these families live in areas where temporary accommodation is very expensive so they face having to move away for cheaper accommodation. That’s away from their family and friends, away from their schools and away from key sources of support such as children’s centres. Temporary accommodation must be exempted from the cap.

Our research highlights that the benefit cap has worrying negative effects on vulnerable children. Too many face being moved away from their homes, their schools and their friends. Too many are not receiving the support they need at the time they need it. Too many appear to be overlooked by the authorities who are struggling to keep up with this rapid and radical policy shift by central government.

Both central and local government must do much more to understand the impact of the benefit cap on vulnerable children and take the practical steps outlined here.

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