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Children the main victims of benefits cap, says Christian charity

A benefits cap for people aged between 16 and 64 is rolling out across England, Scotland and Wales today limiting the weekly amount that can be claimed. A single person with no dependants will now only be able to claim £350 a week.

It will be £500 for a couple with or without dependants, or a lone parent with dependants. The government says the cap should mean that no family gets more than the average working family income of £26,000 a year.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith said:

"The cap is about changing people's lives, ensuring that if you don't want to be capped you go to work and that's the key thing that we are now seeing which is numbers of people are going back to work in the pilot areas and we believe that is to do with the cap.

"Returning fairness to the welfare state in this country is long overdue. We will always be there to support those who need help, but the days of blank cheque benefits are over and the benefit cap is a key part of this.

"We need a system that no longer traps people in a cycle of dependency and is fair for the hardworking taxpayers who fund it.

"Seventy years after Beveridge helped establish Britain's welfare state, we are restoring public trust in it. 

"We are ensuring it is there as a safety net for those who need it but that no-one can claim more than the average household earns in work."

But critics say it doesn't take into account regional differences or the cost of housing. Rob Wager is a caseworker for Christians Against Poverty. He told Premier's Marcus Jones during the News Hour it's an emotive subject: 

The cap will apply to combined income from the main out-of-work benefits which are Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, and Employment Support Allowance, and other benefits such as Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. The Children's Society feels the government is trying to use a blunt instrument to solve a complex problem. 

Chief Executive Matthew Reed said:

"The debate around this cap has focused solely on workless adults, but the reality is that children are seven times more likely than adults to lose out. 

"One hundred and forty thousand children, compared to 60,000 adults, will pay the price as parents have less to spend on food, clothing and rent. 

"And almost half the adults affected will have children aged four or younger, and would find it extremely difficult to be in work, even if they could afford childcare which can cost as much as £100 per child per week.

"Families, especially in London where the cap is being launched, will have their lives disrupted as they are forced to find cheaper rents in other parts of the country, resulting in children having to leave behind their schools, friends and breaking vital support networks. 

"We fully support efforts to make work pay. But it is not right to do this by putting more children on the breadline. 

"Instead, the government should do more to help families by tackling the sky high rents in some parts of the UK and making childcare affordable."

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, is sitting in the House of Lords this week.  He tells Premier it's the cap on housing benefit that most concerns him:

By the end of May 2013, just over 2,400 households had been capped in the boroughs of Enfield, Haringey, Bromley and Croydon, where the benefit cap was initially introduced in April.

In total, it is expected that 40,000 households will have their benefits capped. The Department of Work and Pensions said it will save £110m this year and £185m next year. An Ipsos MORI research of 500 people who were notified within the last year that they would be capped found that around half of people who knew about the cap took action in response to it, with 62% of them looking for a job. All households which include somebody who is receiving Disability Living Allowance will be exempt as will those who receive a War Widow's or Widower's Pension.

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