For over 2,000 years medics cut people open or applied leaches to remove blood from people suffering from diseases ranging from cancer to haemorrhoids. With the wrong diagnosis and a dangerous treatment, it is not surprising that the medics didn’t do any good. The practice remained popular because despite the bloodletting some of the patients actually got better anyway. The bloodletters claimed every patient they didn’t kill vindicated their treatment.
The DWP’s latest misleading announcement of the Benefit Cap’s “success” follows the bloodletter’s logic.
What the Government wants us to believe
Secretary of State Damian Green is quoted as saying “Since the benefit cap was introduced in 2013, people in tens of thousands of households have moved into work. The new lower cap continues to build on that success by incentivizing work.”
The Government wants us to believe that the Benefit Cap is responsible for moving lots of families into work. The key statistic used was that 26,000 families who had their benefits cut by the Cap have moved into work. But this tells us nothing about the effectiveness of the Benefit Cap. This is the equivalent of saying 26,000 people who had leeches stuck on them survived – what we need to know is what difference did the Benefit Cap (or the bloodletting) actually make.
What is the effect of the Benefit Cap?
Contrary to the impression the DWP seeks to give, the answer to this is unknown, but it is certainly not “tens of thousands” of families moving into work.
The Government produced research that compared families just below the old higher Benefit Cap level with those just above. They estimated that without the Cap just over 2 out of 20 families moved into work and for those families affected by the Cap this increased marginally to just under 3 in 20.
The key problem with this research and the whole rationale for the Benefit Cap is that it is premised on the belief that the main effect of benefits is to disincentivise work. It’s not – the money allows families to pay rent, buy food and simply keep going. When families get less money because of the Benefit Cap, the government’s own research shows that large numbers go into debt, run up rent arrears, and can afford less food. The DWP’s announcement didn’t mention this.
Families need enough money to keep going (and when they can look for work)
The Government research looked at the families that had lost the least money due to the Benefit Cap. The DWP wrote that the other families who lost more would be even more likely to get work as greater losses of benefit would mean they were even more incentivised.
As it turns out evidence from Oxford University indicates that families experiencing larger benefit cuts found it increasingly harder to get into work. It is hardly surprising that worrying about rent, clothes, transport and feeding the children makes effective jobsearch more difficult.
I have blogged before on why “work incentives” matter very little to most families who are capped. They simply can’t work without a great deal more support than is on offer. Single parents with newborn babies are capped, people declared unfit to work are capped. Most capped families have more than 3 children often with the youngest under 3 years old. Cutting their benefits – or as the Secretary of State calls it “incentivising work” – is just making a bad situation worse.
Please no more bloodletting
The DWP announcement is beautifully constructed. As can be expected it clearly states that the policy is a “success” but neglects to mention the clear evidence of hardship caused by the Cap. While any reasonable reader would come away with the impression that the Cap causes families to move into work, when you read it very carefully you will find that definitive statements about this are deftly avoided.
The bloodletters knew no better, they didn’t have evidence that applying leeches caused harm. It is clear the Government knows the Benefit Cap causes harm and that the claims of tens of thousands moving into work as a result cannot be backed up with evidence, but it still wants to declare the Cap a success.
Don’t be fooled, and don’t let anyone convince you that drawing yet more blood is a good idea.