Since November more than 700 of the poorest households in Edinburgh have had their benefits cut thanks to the Tory government’s extended benefits cap.
There is a cruel irony in that just as the Conservatives attempt to position themselves as the party of those who are “just about managing”, this policy will place hundreds of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable families at severe risk of deprivation, homelessness and food poverty.
As it places an arbitrary limit on benefits regardless of where the person lives or how many children they have, thus breaking the link between social security and need, the benefit cap is perhaps the most fundamentally flawed of a long list of welfare reforms designed to vilify those who least and create a false distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.
According to the DWP’s research, almost two-thirds of those affected will be female lone parents, with analysis undertaken by One Parent Family Scotland suggesting that a single parent with two children will be left with less than £120 per week for housing costs – not much in Edinburgh.
I know that there will be those who agree with the simple proposition that “no one on benefits should earn more than someone in work”. Indeed in the Commons, only 48 of Labour’s 216 MPs voted against it. But this is a dangerous oversimplification of a complicated problem.
Conservatives maintain that the cap is about “incentivising” work, yet DWP research concluded that the odds on finding work “reduced by two per cent for every pound of income lost through benefit cuts”.
This proves what we already know – that the crushing effects of poverty and anxiety over keeping a roof over your head and putting food on the table are probably not the best conditions in which to find gainful employment.
Instead of creating additional barriers that only serve to punish the most vulnerable, we should remove the barriers that prevent people from working in a manner that takes into account individual circumstances and treats people with basic human dignity and respect.
Lewis Ritchie is an SNP councillor for Leith Walk