Shock as £26,000 benefit families revealed

Rt Rev John Packer
Rt Rev John Packer
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MORE than 2,000 families in the region are pocketing more than £26,000 a year in benefits, the Government has revealed as it prepares to cap their handouts.

The “shocking” number of households across Yorkshire who are claiming more in handouts than thousands of working households are paid has been detailed for the first time.

In total about 2,100 households in Yorkshire are collecting more than £26,000, the maximum they will be able to claim under the Government’s plan to cap benefits to tackle a spiralling welfare bill and coax people back to work. A small number are even entitled to more than £31,000, although exact figures have not been revealed.

Earlier this month MPs rejected a move by the House of Lords – led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer – to remove child benefit from the cap and the Government is determined to see through a policy which has considerable public support.

Skipton and Ripon Conservative MP Julian Smith said: “I’m shocked by the number of people claiming this much in benefits and I think most of my constituents would be gobsmacked.

“I’ve spent most of this week meeting people working hard to run very small businesses or facing difficult times to maintain work. Hard working families will find it startling that people are continuing to complain that the Government is capping these benefits.

“The campaign by the Bishops in the House of Lords and by other bodies to raise that cap doesn’t represent the views of my constituents or hard working people across Yorkshire.”

Official figures show about 400 households in Leeds and 400 in Bradford receive more than £26,000 – the level of the proposed cap – along with 300 in Sheffield. Hundreds of other families in Calderdale, Doncaster, Hull, Kirklees, North East Lincolnshire, Rotherham and Wakefield also receive more at the moment.

The level of the cap – £500 per week – was chosen to reflect the typical post-tax income of a working British household, although this would be lower in Yorkshire and the Humber where the average worker earns £24,200, and the cap is due to come into force in 2013/14.

The policy is seen as popular with the public, with many workers irritated at seeing people able to pocket more on benefits than they earn. It is part of a Government drive to reform the welfare system and make sure people are always better off in work than living off the state.

Labour insists it supports a cap but says it should be set at local rates to take into account different housing costs.

A Department for Work and Pensions source said: “The cap is there to restore fairness to the system that has spiralled out of control. Hard-working families would be surprised to think that there are households taking home more money through benefits than they are by doing the right thing and going out to work.”

With Bishops leading opposition to the cap, the House of Lords passed an amendment to exclude child benefit, but that was overturned by MPs and Ministers say they will use a rule known as “financial privilege” to ensure Parliament approves the cap.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said recently: “We are not talking here about people who have £26,000 to spend, we are talking about people whose rent may be £300 or even more per week – and so that money is going out again.”

He said he shared some concerns about welfare spending but added: “As things stand, the Bill will give the same cap to people who have no children as it will to people with a number of children. It costs money to bring up children, and there needs to be some payment here for that.”