On 8th November 2016 the House of Lords debated a motion from Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Kirkwood to regret the changes to the benefit cap introduced by the Government and taking effect that week. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, supported the motion:
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: That this House regrets that the Government have not, in advance of the entry into force of the Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit and Universal Credit) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (SI 2016/909), made additional support available to those individuals affected by the benefit cap to find work.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, we have heard a number of impressive figures and statistics this evening. It seems to me that the principle underlying all this is that you can save money with one hand but you will pay it out with another. According to End Child Poverty statistics released this month, we have 3.5 million children living in poverty in the United Kingdom in the 21st century. In some regions, up to 47% of children are living in poverty. In my own diocese, in the Bradford local authority area, 32.7% of children are living in poverty after housing costs. The national average is 29%. In Leeds Central, it is 41.8%. If children are living in housing and food poverty—as we know they are from food banks and all the other stuff we see on the ground in our cities, towns and rural areas—then we will end up paying out through the National Health Service and in other ways for the consequences of what children do not have at present.
Could the Government see their way to reducing the impact of this change on children by excluding children’s benefits from the cap, so that families always receive a basic income to spend on their children’s needs? Secondly, could the Government reverse the reductions to in-work allowances under universal credit in order to incentivise moving into work through the provision of better in-work financial support, recognising that much of the poverty we see around us involves those who are in work? I support the Motion to Regret.
Lord Shipley (LD) [extract]: The Government are already committed, as we have heard, to supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but their support for the Bill seems to sit oddly with this cap, which will actually increase homelessness. We have heard a whole set of disturbing figures, from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and others. I understand that Shelter has estimated that there will be more than 120,000 children in temporary accommodation at Christmas. I find that disturbing…
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD) [extract]: We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds of the terrible plight of children: 800 families affected rising to 5,000. That is a terrible increase in the number of children who will be affected. Where is the family test in this policy, or the voice of the child?..
Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [extract]: On to the bad news. I will not rehearse the arguments made eloquently by many noble Lords about the impact on housing and homelessness—points made very well by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Shipley—and on children, a point made by my noble friend Lady Lister and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. His predecessor the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and I made an attempt right at the beginning to exempt child benefit from the cap. Sadly, we were unsuccessful, but I am glad to see the right reverend Prelate keeping up a fine tradition of speaking up for the children of Leeds; I hope that one day, he will not have to. If his sermons are as commendable, pointed and brief as his speeches here, may people flock to his cathedral in time to come.
The motion was rejected at a vote. The Bishop of Leeds voted for the motion.