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Supreme court criticises benefit cap

Supreme Court judges have criticised the benefit cap.  The Supreme Court found that the policy failed to comply with Article 3 (1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This article provides that “in all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. 

Judges did, however, find that the benefit cap does comply with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  As the European Convention is incorporated into UK law, unlike the UN convention, the court found that the policy was lawful. However, judges were highly critical of this policy stating that the policy deprived children of "the basic necessities of life" and made children "suffer from a situation which is not of their making and which they themselves can do nothing about".

The claimants

The benefit cap limits the amount of benefits a household can receive to £500 a week for couples and £350 a week for households of a single adult.  It is imposed regardless of the size or circumstances of a family and can be particularly difficult for claimants who are paying rent in expensive areas, like London.  

The claimants involved in this particular case are both single mothers who fled domestic abuse.  One lives in a two bedroom flat with 6 children who is left with just £80 per month to live on once her rent has been paid out of her benefit entitlement.  The other has three children and also lives in a two bedroom flat, the cap on her benefits means she must make a £50 shortfall rent payment to her landlord every week.  

Arguments for and against the cap

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) who intervened in the case argued that the cap is discriminatory.  The cap appears to disproportionately affect women and children, both because single parents who are unable to work are more likely to be women and because the cap was likely to impact on victims of domestic abuse, who are often placed in expensive temporary housing and who are, most often, female.  The government justified the cap by stating that it is necessary:

  • to set a reasonable limit to the extent to which the state will support non-working households from public funds,
  • to provide the members of such households of working age with a greater incentive to work, and
  • to achieve savings in public expenditure at a time when such savings are necessary in the interests of the economic well-being of the country.

Next steps

While the judgment found that the policy was lawful, judges have expressed their hope that the government would consider these breaches of children's rights when reviewing this policy. 

I would hope that in the course of their review of the scheme, the government will address the implications of these findings in relation to article 3(1) itself Lord Carnwath

Tagged In

Benefits, Welfare Reform, Legal
This article was written on 19 March 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.