Life on the front line after the benefits cap

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It is more than six months since the government's benefits cap was introduced, with the aim of encouraging people into work. Panorama followed council officers in the London Borough of Brent for seven months to find out how it was affecting families.

"I don't know how anyone can be rich and proud on benefits. For me, it's very shameful. I hate being in this situation. I hate having to rely on the government," said single mother-of-two Tanya Blake.

She is head of one of the 38,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales that have seen their benefits capped at £26,000 a year since the measure was introduced last April.

To avoid being capped she has been trying to find a job, which must be for more than 16 hours a week. Some 60% of those capped are single parents, who are treated in the same way as couples.

Under the policy, couples with or without children, or lone parents with a child, can claim £500 a week in benefits - the average income of working families. Single adults can claim no more than £350 a week.

New mother

It applies to people receiving jobseeker's allowance, child benefit, child tax credits, housing benefits and other key support from the government. No-one who works enough hours to claim working tax credit is affected.

Ms Blake was moved to a home outside Brent to Notting Hill three years ago and the council paid her £500-a-week rent. But since the cap came in, she has lost £200 a week and all her benefits go on rent.

"I need a job and cheaper accommodation so then I've got more money to spend on the household and the boys, because it isn't cheap," she says.

"I don't blame them what they [the government] are doing, getting lazy people back to work. But I've just had a baby. When he's six months or seven months and he's ready to go back into nursery, then yes, I can go back to work, but it's hard." 

Ms Blake discovered from council advisers that she had been given a temporary benefit top-up called discretionary housing benefit because her child is under one. By the end of filming the council had managed to find her a cheaper privately rented property in Brent - but she was still unemployed.

About £95bn a year is currently paid in benefits to families of working age. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said the cap would return "fairness to the benefits system" and provide an incentive for people to work. The government hopes the cap will save about £110m in the first year, and £300m over the next two years.

Labour supports the idea of a cap, but is considering having it set at different levels in different parts of the country.

Latest figures to the end of January from the Department for Work and Pensions showed that some 10,900 households - 28% - had come off the cap since last April. Some 4,250, a tenth of the total of those capped, had found employment.