Figures show devastating impact of ‘immoral’ benefit freeze

Calls are growing for the Philip Hammond to scrap the vindictive policy.

Pic: The benefit freeze is forcing people to rely on food banks across the country.

Pressure is building for the Tories to end the ‘immoral’ freeze on benefits in next week’s Spring Statement, after it was revealed that the policy has made life harder for over 27 million people across the UK.

Many benefits including tax credits and Local Housing Allowance have been frozen since 2016 and are due to stay at this level until 2020.

Now new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reveals that extending the freeze in next week’s Spring Statement would cost millions of low-income families £560 a year.

The JRF’s Harriet Anderson and Calum Masters write:

“The benefits freeze is the single biggest policy driver behind rising poverty in the UK. If the Government was to push ahead with the policy until April 2020, it will have driven 400,000 people into poverty and made life harder for 27 million people – 11 million of whom are children.

“Families are already on average £340 a year worse off because of the policy. Continuing the freeze for another year would further squeeze families leaving them on average £560 a year worse off.  This is equivalent to around three months of food shopping for an average low-income family.”

Over the last five years child poverty has been rising, and is set to continue to increase in the coming years.

Ashley, 42, told the JRF:

“Since the benefit freeze, I have been choosing between eating, heating, paying bills or dealing with another essential need or emergency. It’s not right that the cost of living continues to increase, while benefits have remained static. It is cruel and unrealistic to expect people to break free of poverty, while doing nothing to make this an achievable outcome.”

The organisation’s analysis found:

  • 200 000 people have already been pushed into poverty by the first three years of the freeze, around half of them children. 
  • In real terms, the support that people receive in 2019 will be worth 6.5% less than it would have been if it had risen with inflation, as would normally be the case.
  • More than nine in ten single parent families and more than eight out of ten couple parent families would see their incomes rise if the freeze was ended.

Commenting on the findings, Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said:
“The Conservative freeze on working-age benefits is causing real pain and misery that must be stopped. 

“The Spring Statement is the last chance to scrap the benefits freeze before the final year of the freeze kicks in. The Chancellor must end the misery. If he doesn’t, he should be in no doubt that every life made harder and every child pushed into poverty will be on his watch.”

The Independent Group of MPs have launched a petition against the benefit freeze, which was signed by nearly 10,000 people in less than 24 hours.

In an email fronted by former Tory MP Heidi Allen written to supporters, the group said:

“We believe that all policy should be evidence-based, especially when that policy affects some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“There’s no reason to persist with the final year of the freeze, especially when the past three years significantly exceeded the savings originally envisaged.”

SNP MP Neil Gray said:

“The pressure is on this Tory government to tackle the very real problems facing the millions of people in Scotland who are struggling to make ends meet. The Chancellor must act and end the freeze early when he delivers his Spring Statement next week.”

Will the Chancellor listen to these calls – or keep pushing Brits into poverty?

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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