The intense political debate over the three-year squeeze on benefits and tax credits is set to intensify as new figures reveal that 4.6 million women who receive child tax credit directly will be affected, a number that includes 2.5 million working women, and more than a million women who care for children while their partners work.
In addition, low-paid new mothers on £12,000 a year are losing £1,300 during pregnancy and the baby’s first year via cuts to maternity pay, pregnancy support and tax credits. They are also losing a further £422 from cuts to child benefit over the same period.
The figures have been compiled by the Commons library for the shadow equalities minister, Yvette Cooper, and come as MPs prepare to vote on Tuesday on the three-year 1% rise in benefits, which ends the current link with inflation.
The vote also comes amid a row about the anomalies thrown up by withdrawing child benefit from higher rate taxpayers.
Hundreds of thousands of people who receive child benefit, and who have an individual in the household earning more than £60,000 annually, will have to fill in self-assessment forms if they failed to meet the deadline to notify the HMRC that they should no longer receive child benefit under the new rules.
David Cameron has been battling to create a clear political dividing line, with Labour seen on the side of the unemployed welfare claimant and the Conservatives supporting those striving in work. But he was facing headwinds as Labour continued to highlight the three-year 1% squeeze hitting the working poor, and the Treasury battled to explain the anomalies created by the withdrawal of child benefit.
The figures compiled for Cooper show that two-thirds of those affected overall by the 1% benefit and tax credit freeze are women. On average, 98% of those hit by Monday’s child benefit change are women – including women on low pay, or at home with small children with partners earning more than £50,000 a year.
Cooper said: “Once again women are bearing the brunt of David Cameron’s damaging policies and paying the price for this government’s economic failure. George Osborne and David Cameron came up with real cuts to tax credits as a political stunt, whilst giving millionaires a tax cut. The shocking truth is that working women are paying the price of these Tory boys’ political games.
“Two-thirds of those hit directly by the ‘strivers tax’ are women, including over 2.5 million working mums, who are losing out from changes to the child tax credit.
“Time and again David Cameron reveals he has a complete blind spot about women’s lives. Either he hasn’t a clue or he just doesn’t care. This cabinet’s deep prejudice against women means working women and mums at home with young children have been hardest hit every time.”
Cameron, in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, did not deny many of those affected by the 1% rise in benefits and tax credits were in work, but said: “The Labour party agrees with the 1% increase for public sector pay, but doesn’t agree with the 1% cap on welfare.”
The prime minister struggled to defend the withdrawal of child benefit, which was described by the rightwing thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs as “probably the single most incompetent change to the benefits system since the second world war”.
The changes will mean that families with one parent earning more than £50,000 will lose part of their child benefit. The benefit is fully withdrawn where one parent earns above £60,000, even though two couples earning £45,000 a year with a joint income of £90,000 are unaffected.
Defending the policy, Cameron said: “I’m not saying those people are rich, but I think it is right that they make a contribution.
“This will raise £2bn a year. If we don’t raise that £2bn from that group of people – the better off 15% in the country – we would have to find someone else to take it from.”
He said the only way to have avoided the anomalies would be to have a system that means tested every family in the country. “I don’t want to introduce that sort of complexity into our system and that is why we opted for the relatively straightforward approach.”
But Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, denounced the plan as a “complete shambles”, adding: “We’re going to have many, many hundreds of thousands of people who will end up filing in tax returns because they didn’t realise they were supposed to apply by today not to get the child benefit.”