Simon Hughes issues warning over benefits cap

Simon Hughes
Image caption Simon Hughes says the current Welfare Reform Bill will not pass through the House of Lords

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is warning that the government's proposed benefits cap will "break up families".

It would "damage the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of children", he told the BBC.

The House of Lords will next week vote on proposals to cap the amount of benefits any family can receive at £26,000 per year.

Mr Hughes said the Welfare Reform Bill is unlikely to be passed as it stands.

Ministers say that legislation would increase incentives for people on benefits to work while protecting the most vulnerable and making welfare expenditure more sustainable.

But Mr Hughes told the BBC there were "bottom lines" in politics and that one was "making sure that those with least finances and the most mouths to feed, and the most needy" were protected.

"I support the fact that in principle there should be a benefits cap and that we have to make sure that we can curb our benefits expenditure.

"But you can't penalise the families of a particular size today and say 'this must be the limit', no matter if you have one child... or four children and retrospectively say that people will have less money in the years ahead."

He went on to say that he did not think the Bill would go through the Lords in its present form, nor the Commons "because we cannot allow families to be unjustifiably and retrospectively penalised and left with not enough money to stay in their homes and be literally forced onto the street. That is unacceptable".

Despite his position within the Lib Dem party, Mr Hughes is not a minister and therefore not a part of the coalition government.

'Populist headlines'

In a speech to the Liverpool Liberal Democrats' annual dinner on Saturday, Mr Hughes will say his party has "no problem" with the government's policy of making work pay.

But he will add: "As it currently stands, the benefits cap will break up families, as it will provide a financial incentive to be apart.

"Under the plans as they stand, a couple with four children will see their benefits limited to £500. But if the parents live separately they will be able to claim up to £1,000. How will that support families?"

Mr Hughes will say that changes to welfare payments must be done with care and "not [be] driven by how they play in populist headlines".

He will also say: "I call on the government to make clear, at the latest before the Welfare Reform Bill comes back to the House of Commons, what it intends to do to prevent the planned benefits changes from breaking up families and damaging the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of children."

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