Lone parents lose Supreme Court fight over benefit cap
Campaigners argue the ‘discriminatory’ reduced cap targets the wrong people.
Lone parents and their children have lost challenges at the UK’s highest court against the Government’s controversial benefit cap.
Supreme Court justices, sitting in London on Wednesday, rejected their appeals in cases brought against the Work and Pensions Secretary over the lawfulness of the measure by a majority of five to two.
Campaigners say the “discriminatory” reduced cap targets the wrong people “and is not achieving its stated aims”.
A panel of judges were asked at a hearing last year to rule on whether the revised cap breaches human rights laws.
Lord Wilson, announcing the decision, described the legislation which introduced the revised cap as “tough”, and said the court had been faced with a “difficult” decision on the appeals.
The evidence had persuaded all seven justices that the cap has had a “major impact on lone parents with children under school age” because it “is particularly difficult for them to go out to work”.
The Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 provides that where families receive state benefits of a specified character of more than £23,000 a year if living in London, or £20,000 a year elsewhere, the benefits should – subject to various ways of escaping from it – be capped at those levels.
One way of escaping the cap is for the adults to go out to work – a lone parent must do so for 16 hours a week.
But lawyers for lone parents say the cap has “drastically” reduced housing benefits, leaving many families unable to afford basic life necessities to care for their children.
It was argued they should be exempted because of the difficulty for the parent to find work compatible with his or her childcare responsibilities.
Lord Wilson said the effect on the parents and particularly on their children “is often harsh”.
But in concluding that the appeals “must fail”, the majority considered, said Lord Wilson, that “we cannot go so far as to say that this application of the cap is manifestly without foundation”.
Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, and is a blow to the many lone parents who are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads due to the benefit cap Polly Neate, Shelter
Supreme Court president Lady Hale, ruling in favour of the five lone parents – all women – who brought the appeals, said that “this seems to me a clear case where the weight of the evidence shows that a fair balance has not been struck between the interests of the community and the interests of the children concerned and their parents”.
She declared that there was “unjustified discrimination” against lone parents of children under the age of five, and against children under five with lone parents.
Lady Hale said: “It seems to me that it has been comprehensively demonstrated by the mass of evidence… that the revised benefit cap is not suitable to achieving any of its declared aims.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, and is a blow to the many lone parents who are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads due to the benefit cap.
“Some families we work with are left with 50p a week towards their rent.”
She urged the Government to “end this cruel and self-defeating policy”.
Carla Clarke, head of strategic litigation for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which represented two families, said the ruling was “hugely disappointing”.
She said: “The UK’s highest court has upheld a law and a policy that is increasing poverty while failing to deliver on its principal aim of work incentivisation.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. The benefit cap provides a clear incentive to work, including part-time, as anyone can become exempt by moving into work or increasing their hours.
“We are committed to helping parents into employment that fits around their child caring responsibilities and there are a near record number of lone parents in work.
“There are exemptions to the cap in place for those who cannot work, such as disabled people and those with health conditions.”