Are 200 families costing the taxpayer £12m in out-of-work benefits?

9 January 2012

As peers return to work after their Christmas break this week, one of the first pieces of legislation they are due to consider is the controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

Today campaigners released a report criticising many of the changes to disability benefits proposed by the Government. Meanwhile in the morning's newspapers another area of controversy was under the microscope.

According to reports in the Sun, the Express, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, families with 10 children or more could be costing the taxpayer £12 million per year in out-of-work benefits.

The Sun claimed that "nearly 200 families are pocketing a staggering £61,000 A YEAR in benefits, Government figures revealed last night."

The Express went further, noting that: "These huge broods in workless households are costing taxpayers nearly £12million a year."

So what are these "new figures"?

The information has been taken from a Freedom of Information request, which, as the table below demonstrates, does indeed show that in May 2010 there were 190 families claiming out-of-work benefits with 10 or more children.

However the Freedom of Information request also notes that: "Data by number of adults in the family claiming benefits and total monetary value of benefit payments are not available."

So where have the costs quoted by the papers come from?

A clue might be offered in the Press Association piece on this story. This notes that each family could be eligible for £61,000 per year in state support, or "around £1,177 a week in benefits if they were claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, Child Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and Child Benefit at the 2011/12 benefit rates."

If this £61,000 per year was claimed by each of the 190 families, then the total bill to the taxpayer could be £11.6 million.

However while the PA is careful to point out that this is the maximum level of support a family with 10 children would be eligible for, this uncertainty about the true sums actually being claimed has been lost by many of the newspaper reports, particularly those in the Sun, Mail and Express.

As the DWP release notes, only around 40 families are actually in receipt of Jobseekers' Allowance, with Income Support being the most claimed out-of-work benefit in this group. Using JSA as the basis for the calculations done by the PA may not therefore be representative of this group as a whole.

Furthermore, details on the numbers of adults in each househiold are not provided by the DWP, while it does note that individual families may be claiming more than one benefit. Both of these caveats complicate the cost estimates further.

While the figure could be an over-estimate, as not every family may be claiming the maximum amount used in the calculations, it is worth noting that, as the sums used by the papers refer to a family with 10 children, the 50 families with 11 or more children could push this total higher.

The truth is that there is no public data on the benefit outlays associated with these families, meaning that the figures quoted by the papers can only be estimates. This may not have been clear to readers from the articles themselves however, which seem to express more certainty than is merited in this case.

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