UK Supreme Court rejects ‘benefit cap’ discriminates against lone parents

The UK Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the ‘benefit cap’ which, it was argued, discriminated against single parents with young children.

The appeal was brought challenging a cap that places a limit of £20,000 (£23,000 in London) per household on the social welfare benefits that can be claimed, unless paid work is taken on for 16 hours per week. The appeal was brought on behalf of a number of lone parents and their young children, who claimed that the cap discriminated against lone parents given their limited ability to work due to childcare needs. It was shown that the cap disproportionately impacts on lone parents and their children, who are far more likely to be capped (over 70% of all capped families are lone parents) and this was having an adverse effect on vulnerable non-working families.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by a majority of 5-2, finding that the decision not to exempt single parents with young children was not without reasonable foundation and did not breach the right to a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Wilson accepted that the cap did impact on lone parent households, saving little public money yet bringing families below the poverty line in a manner that effected the development of children under 5. This engaged Article 8, leaving the Government to objectively justify the discrimination. The test therefore to be applied by the Court was whether it was manifestly without reasonable foundation. Lord Wilson highlighted that the Government did evaluate the likely impact on single parent households with young children, but it had proceeded with the view that there are better long-term outcomes for children in working households.

Lady Hale, in dissent, stated that the Government failed to strike a fair balance between the limited public benefits of the cap and the damage done to the family lives of young children and their lone parents. She indicated that the savings from the cap would result in greater spending elsewhere, including rehousing families made homeless and the impact of harm to children.

Lord Kerr, who also dissented, rejected the application of the test in the case which applied only to the margin of appreciation given the Member States and not to questions of proportionality. In his view, the evidence put before the Court refuted the Government’s claim that the cap incentivised parents to find work.  

Click here for the decision in R (on the application of DS and others) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Respondent).

Click here for a previous article on the Court of Appeal’s decision on the benefit cap.



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