Five questions answered on the benefits cap roll out

How much is the government actually going to save?

A cap on the amount of benefits people aged between 16 and 64 can claim is being rolled out in England, Scotland and Wales today. We answer five questions on the changes the benefit cap will bring.

What’s the biggest change the cap brings to benefits?

Chiefly that couple and lone parents will no not be able to receive more than £500 a week or £350 a week for a single person.

The cap does not affect Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, as well other benefits including industrial injuries benefit or a war widow or widower's pension.

How will the cap be enforced exactly? 

The cap will affect payments including jobseekers allowance and child and housing benefit, which all count towards the cap.

Those affected by the changes will have their housing benefit reduced.

It has already been implemented in four London boroughs - Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley - since April, which were all given £1.8m by the government in the first year, to help with the transition.

However, Haringey estimates that it will have to add £2m of its own money to pay for the changes this year alone.

What have critics of the cap said?

They say it fails to tackle underlying issues, such as problems faced by those trying to find work. The National Housing Federation (NHF), which agrees that those on benefits should not earn more than those in work, says the cap does not work in London and the South East, where the cost of rent is high.

What has Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said about this change?

"The benefit cap returns fairness to the benefits systems," Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC.

"It ensures the taxpayer can have trust in the welfare system and it stops sky-high claims that make it impossible for people to move into work.

"The limit of £500 a week ensures no-one claims more in benefits than the average household and there is a clear reason for people to get a job - as those eligible for Working Tax Credit are exempt."

How much does the government expect to save from the benefits cap?

It hopes the cap will save the tax payer about £110m in the first year, and £300m over the next two years.

About £95bn a year is currently paid in benefits to families of working age.

A cap on the amount of benefits people aged between 16 and 64 can claim is being rolled out. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.