UK Politics

Benefits cap not about punishing people - Duncan Smith

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Media captionWork and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith said money should go ''to those who need it and deserve it''

Iain Duncan Smith has told the BBC a planned benefits cap is not "about punishing people", and has said people are "not suffering" under his reforms.

Peers will debate the planned £26,000-per-family cap on Monday, having already inflicted a series of defeats on the government's welfare bill.

The work and pensions secretary said the cap was aimed at making lives better by reducing dependency.

He said ministers were "determined" to get his reforms through Parliament.

The government's flagship Welfare Reform Bill, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, introduces Mr Duncan Smith's Universal Credit - a single benefit to replace six work-based benefits.

Welfare dependency

But other measures - reducing entitlements to Employment and Support Allowance and changes to Disability Living Allowance - have run into trouble in the Lords.

Last week the government was defeated three times in votes on the Bill and on Monday, another controversial proposal - the proposed cap on the overall amount of benefits one family can receive - will be debated by peers.

In an interview with BBC political editor Nick Robinson, Mr Duncan Smith said the cap was aimed at making people's lives better - by breaking the cycle of welfare dependency.

He said for the majority of people, claiming benefits was only a temporary situation and Universal Credit would help move them back into work.

"But there is, for a relatively small number of people, a process which has kind of trapped them... in an invidious position of not being able to go back into work, because they are now being paid so much money by the state, mostly to do with the size of the house they are in."

He said overall benefits were being capped at the same level as average earnings - and said there were people in parts of London paying more than £100,000 a year in rent "which no-one on a regular income could possibly afford".

"They can't go into work because they are trapped, because the moment they do, they start losing their housing benefit, and they would have to move.

"That is the problem, capping it brings them back to a level that says: Look, from this point onwards you can always afford to look for work."

Child benefit

He admitted it was "going to be difficult" for people who would have to relocate - but said help would be provided to find housing and help claimants find work.

One of the key amendments next week, put down by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, would exclude child benefit from the overall cap on benefits - on the grounds that child benefit is not means-tested and is paid to all families, working or not.

But Mr Duncan Smith rejected that idea - arguing it would "emasculate" the measure and give people who did not need it a "let out".

And he said the cap would not affect disabled people, war widows, war pensioners or people who had gone back to work and were on tax credits - "because they are doing the right thing".

"This cap is not about punishing people and I can absolutely guarantee to you and everyone else that this is not about making people homeless and chucking them out - this is about giving people a proper start in life."

He said it was important taxpayers saw the system as being "fair to those who need it" and those who funded it.

Asked if the cap was really a distraction from the changes to disability benefits, ESA and housing benefits, from which people were suffering, he said: "But they're not suffering. The point about this is that what makes you suffer is the state that plunges you into dependency."

He said that meant bigger bills for taxpayers and it blighted people's lives, and their children's lives.

"These reforms are about changing those lives, to give them a chance that through work, through employment, through positive action they can change their lives."

Among those to raise concerns about the proposed cap is the Lib Dem deputy leader, Simon Hughes.

He told the BBC last week it would "break up families" and said he did not believe the Bill would go through the Lords in its current form.

Mr Hughes, who is not a minister, said: "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".

But Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC peers voting next week "need to recognise that we are determined as a government to get these reforms through".

"If they have to come back to the Commons and if we have to take them back to the Lords, we will do just that."

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