Ex-minister calls benefits cap ‘immoral’

A former coalition minister has condemned the government's plan for a benefits cap as 'immoral'. Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather MP accuses the government of seeking to 'gain popularity at the expense of children's lives' and of demonising claimants.

Teather, who was a children's minister until sacked in September 2012, made the remarks in an interview with the Observer newspaper. From April 2013 the government will cap total household benefits at £500 a week for a family and £350 a week for a single person with no children.

Key Teather quotes

  • 'Having an incentive in the benefits system to encourage people to work is a good thing... because it encourages people to participate in society. But having a system which is so punitive in its regime that it effectively takes people entirely outside society, so they have no chance of participating, crosses a moral line for me.'
  • 'Whenever there is any hint of opposition [some people in the government] wheel out a caricature of a family, usually a very large family, probably black, most likely recent immigrants, without much English, lots of children, apparently chaotic, living in a desirable neighbourhood that middle-class people would like to occupy. That is the caricature and of course it is a partial spinning of the truth and it allows the demonisation to take place.'
  • 'I don't think we can afford to preside over a society where there is a gradual eroding of sympathy for people at the bottom end of the income spectrum and a rapid erosion of sympathy for people on benefits... I think deliberately to stoke up envy and division between people in order to gain popularity at the expense of children's lives is immoral.'
  • 'The [benefits cap] policy was essentially conceived as a political device. It is simply not in the same league as other policies that are challenging in their consequences but done for a good purpose. I don't think it was even remotely conceived as a financial cost-cutting device. I think it was conceived as a political device to demonstrate whose side you are on.'

Source: The Observer, 17 November 2012
LinksInterview | Observer report