Government red tape punishing Preston's poorest families
Calls to scrap Government cap on benefits which is hitting the hardest up
The number of families in Preston who have been hit by a benefit cap has surged since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures show.
With a record number of families affected across Great Britain, the Government is facing calls to abolish the cap from charities who say the policy is an "unjust punishment" on poorer households.
Department for Work and Pensions figures show that 350 families had their benefits capped in Preston during February.
This was more than two times the number capped in the same period last year, when 172 had either their housing benefit or Universal Credit payment reduced.
Of the households impacted this year, 226 (65 per cent) had single parents.
Across Great Britain, 200,000 households had their benefits capped during February, more than twice the 77,700 impacted in the same period last year.
That included 166,200 households with children, and 117,200 with single parents.
The benefit cap limits the total income a household can receive from certain benefits, and currently kicks in at £20,000 per year for families with children outside of London, and £23,000 for those in the capital.
The limits are lower for single adults and lone parents whose children do not live with them.
Money is taken away by reducing either their housing benefit or Universal Credit payments – although there is an initial nine-month grace period during which benefits will not be capped.
The DWP said the record number in February had been driven by a rise in Universal Credit claimants due to job losses linked to the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
According to Child Poverty Action Group, which wants the cap abolished, households impacted are losing out on an average £62 a week.
The charity said families were finding it hard to escape the cap due to a continued lack of jobs and unaffordable childcare.
Chief executive Alison Garnham said: "The benefit cap has always been an unjust punishment for families."
And she added: "Thousands more households who have lost jobs to Covid-19 are now subject to the cap even though in the pandemic it is much harder to find ways to replace their lost earnings and become exempt.
"Especially in areas with high rents, capped families are losing large amounts of social security support and that is disastrous for the children concerned."
Meanwhile, homeless charity Shelter said a government failure to review the cap had plunged many families into poverty and put them at risk of homelessness.
Chief executive Polly Neate said: "The cap means people whose incomes have been decimated by the pandemic cannot access enough financial support to cover their basic costs, like rent or food for their family."
In Preston, of the households to have benefits capped in February, the largest proportion – 158 families – had up to £100 taken off the weekly amount they receive, while around 110 had more than £200 removed.
The DWP said a review of the benefit cap will be carried out at "the appropriate time".
A spokesperson said: "The benefit cap ensures fairness for hard-working taxpaying households and a strong work incentive, while also providing a much-needed safety net of support."