Thursday, 29 April 2021




Millions of people on benefits will get just a few pence a week more in smallest uprating

The week beginning April 12 was a big one for people who are so disabled they need help with their bodily functions from another person by day and by night. They got an extra 60p a week on their Attendance Allowance – less than the price of a 2nd class stamp to write and complain. Their carer will get an extra 35p a week which, for the minimum 35 hours they must do their caring, amounts at best to an extra 1p an hour. In total their weekly stipends will creep up to £89.60 and £67.60 a week. A carer who tries to work their way out of poverty loses all their carer’s allowance the moment their wages rise above £128 a week – 14 hours at minimum wage if they are aged 23 or more.

Other benefits rose by similarly inconsequential amounts. Those on employment and support allowance got 35p a week more, slightly less if they are under 25. People on long-term incapacity benefit because they are, guess what, incapacitated over the long term, were given an extra 55p, barely enough for a pint of semi-skimmed.

Child benefit paid to millions of mothers will rise by just 10p for the oldest child and 5p for each other – less than the cost of a visit to a public toilet.

Even widowed mothers, once in the pantheon of those we should help, will see their allowance rise by just 60p a week to £122.55. They are lucky. More recently bereaved spouses will get zilch. Bereavement Support Payments, which began for deaths from 6 April 2017, are only made for eighteen months so the Government has seen no need to raise them at any of the four Aprils since they were introduced. Many other amounts are also frozen. The benefit cap – the maximum allowed which generally cuts the benefits of people with high rents and several children – remains where it was fixed five years ago at £20,000 a year. The amount of savings which denies entitlement to means-tested benefits is still frozen at £16,000, an amount set fifteen years ago. The Local Housing allowance – the maximum amount of rent that can be paid – has also been frozen for 2021/21. So as rents rise, tenants are poorer.

I am old enough to remember the trouble Gordon Brown got into in 1999 when he announced a rise in the state pension of just 75p a week. That is more than the increase in every working age benefit rate on 12 April this year. But there is no outrage this year, even though Brown’s 75p pension increase was the correct amount according to the same rules. Each April benefits rise in line with the inflation rate the previous September. In 1999 that was 1.1%. In 2020 it was 0.5%. That 75p rise would be worth £1.77 in today’s money.

There have been two changes to that rule. From 2011 the CPI replaced the RPI as the measure of inflation, a change which reduces inflation by almost one percentage point just because of the different arithmetic the two measures use. Indeed, in September 2020 while the CPI was 0.5% the RPI was at the 1999 Brownian level of 1.1%! Five years later austerity kicked in and most working age benefits were frozen from 2016 to 2019. Over that period prices rose 7.4% (CPI) or 10% (RPI).

Even pensioners are not exempt from this parsimony.  Of course, at the moment the old basic state pension and the flat rate new state pension are increased each year by the magic triple lock – forged from the Gordon Brown embarrassment and tempered in the fire of six general elections. Those amounts are raised each year by the highest of the rise in prices or wages or 2.5%. This year with pay increases negative in the autumn and a 0.5% rise in the CPI, the default rate of 2.5% was used. So from April 12th the basic state pension went up to £137.60 a week – a rise of £3.35, almost ten times the increase paid to a carer, and the new state pension is now £179.60, a full £4.40 a week more – equal to the rise in child benefit for a mother with 87 children. But pensioners are not free of the CPI shackle. Only the two headline rates get that triple lock treatment. The extras – SERPS and its enfeebled lookalike state second pension, the old graduated pension, the protected amount paid with some new state pensions above the flat rate, and the extra for deferring your claim which is paid (at different rates) with old and new pensions, all rose by 0.5%. As a result many state pensioners will see an increase in their weekly benefit of less than 2.5%. A rise of less than 2.5% was also given to those who get the means-tested pension credit.

I recite all these facts partly because I am the Mr Gradgrind of financial journalism “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else….You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts…Stick to facts, sir!” (Charles Dickens, Hard Times 1854, Chapter 1). But mainly because they are little known, seldom acknowledged, and rarely understood. As Thomas Cranmer said – read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

A version of this blogpost was first published in Money Marketing 

29 April 2021 

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