‘It’s fair’: Minister defends new £20,000 benefit cap during Sunderland visit

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green with youngsters who have been taking part in training with the Foundation of Light

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green with youngsters who have been taking part in training with the Foundation of Light

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A senior minister has defended the Government’s new benefits cap during a visit to Sunderland.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green visited the Stadium of Light this morning and heard about the work the Foundation of Light is doing to help train people for work.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green meets Nathan Shippey, who inspired the creation of the stadium's sensory room

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green meets Nathan Shippey, who inspired the creation of the stadium's sensory room

The benefit cap, which came into effect on Monday, limits the total amount of benefits a North East household can receive to £20,000 a year.

The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates up to 5,000 households across the region will be hit, and Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Health, Housing and Adult Services Coun Graeme Miller said he feared some families could even lose their homes as a result.

But Mr Green defended the move and said the idea behind the cap was ‘one of fairness, that you can’t get more money on benefits than the average family can get from working.’

The cap did not exist in isolation, he said, but had to be looked at alongside the positive steps the Government was taking to help the low-paid: “The benefit cap has to be put in the context of the introduction of the National Living wage, so that people can earn more money in jobs that maybe are lower paid, and also the fact that millions of people have been taken out of paying any income tax if they are earning around ten thousand a year.

The benefit cap has to be put in the context of the introduction of the National Living wage, so that people can earn more money in jobs that maybe are lower paid, and also the fact that millions of people have been taken out of paying any income tax if they are earning around ten thousand a year.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green

“So the benefit cap is fair in that context and it also goes alongside all the things we do to try to help people get back into work.

“One of the successes of the past five or six years has been the number of people who have got into work. In this region, unemployment is down 28 per cent since 2010 and I was interested talking today to the people who are running the training programmes.

“I asked them, ‘Ok, you train the people up, are there companies out there with jobs to offer?’ and they just said ‘Yes absolutely, that’s not an issue.’

“There are jobs out there to be had, so what we need to do is help people get the skills and the aptitudes that allow them to take those jobs.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green meets Foundation of Light workers

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green meets Foundation of Light workers

‘Sunderland is a world leader’

Sunderland football club is a world leader in its support for the disabled, said Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green.

He toured the Stadium of Light - including its pioneering sensory room which allows autistic youngsters to enjoy the match in a calm environment - and met with staff and clients from the Foundation of Light to hear about its work in providing training for disabled people.

“Sunderland as a club are not just leaders in this country, but leaders around the world in some of the things they do for disabled fans,” he said.

“But also the Foundation of Light is a great example of how you can use the pull of a football club to help the community in all sorts of ways that have nothing directly to do with football.

“I have been meeting people who have benefited from the employment programmes they run, the skills training they run here, and it’s great to see this kind of activity.

“Also, I took a quick look at the new school they have set up, the new free school, which is a hugely interesting idea, again using the power of football and the attraction it has to encourage 13-16-year-olds who are having real problems at school - and may have been excluded from school - actually to get them back into the swing of regular activity.

“I think Sunderland are being hugely imaginative in the way they are using that pulling power.”

Foundation of Light chief executive Lesley Spuhler OBE was delighted with Mr Green’s visit.

“It is absolutely lovely,” she said.

“The visit is because of the work we do with regard to education and inclusion. We are delighted he has been able to meet some of the learners, the people who have benefited from the programmes that we operate, and the staff who work on the different things we do.”

Nissan a ‘fantastic decision’

Mr Green said the Government’s commitment to making Britain competitive after Brexit had been crucial to persuading Nissan to stay on Wearside.

“The Business Secretary Greg Clark was obviously the main person in those negotiations,” he said.

“He and the Prime Minister have made clear that what has helped Nissan come to what is a fantastic decision for this area, of not just staying here but building a new model, is precisely our attitude as a country to improving our infrastructure, making sure the right skills are available, making sure that the automotive industry supply chain will be protected and helped as much as possible and that we will continue to be an outward-looking, globally-focused country, which is, therefore, a good place to have a base from which you can sell around the world.

“Clearly, Nissan have taken that message on board and it’s great news for Sunderland, obviously.”