Welfare reform: the benefits cap, Labour and Wales

We've been rumbled. Journalists are better at writing about mortgages than benefits.

"Raising a social security issue with journalists," writes the Newport West MP Paul Flynn, "will set their eyes glazing over. They will quickly remember another appointment and scuttle off".

Which reminds me....but before I disappear to a prior engagement there's just time to look at the current controversy over benefits.

MPs will this week debate government plans to impose a £26,000 limit on the amount a household can claim in benefits. It will mean, says the DWP, "that households on out of work benefits will no longer receive more in benefit than the average weekly wage earned by working households".

It is a policy that is more popular with voters than with bishops and has caused political difficulties for Labour at Westminster.

The proposed cap would affect, according to the DWP, around 3,000 adults and 7,000 children in Wales. A quarter of the (fewer than 2,000) households affected are in Cardiff.

Rhondda Labour MP Chris Bryant told Radio 4's The Westminister Hour: "In my constituency the idea of anybody getting £26,000 is just incredible and unbelievable and nobody would think that was morally right."

But, he said, the Rhondda is not London, where there are different pressures on the welfare budget.

Labour have instead suggested a local cap to take account of higher costs in some parts of the UK.

This risks opening the proverbial can of worms, given the party's opposition to regional pay in the public sector. The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, described that as "code for cutting pay in Wales".

Labour say there is a difference between "regional" pay and "local" benefit caps but the difference in principle may be a subtle one.

In his new book, How To Be An MP, Paul Flynn explains media coverage of benefits this way:

"There are more people on benefits in Britain than have mortgages. Almost all hacks have mortgages. None are on benefits".

That may be true, although there are probably discrepancies in other areas of coverage too. I occasionally feel we spend more time talking about, say, constitutional reform than we do about what is for many people the daily struggle to meet ends meet.

Paul Flynn tells me he is a firm supporter of a benefits cap, if only for some claimants: he wants state handouts capped at £26,000 a year for "minor royals and farmers".

Labour's position on the cap may have changed during the last week, but that is one policy the party has yet to adopt.