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 Nridigital.com

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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