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UK Supreme Court rules ‘benefits cap’ lawful

R (on the application of SG and others (previously JS and others)) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (2015) UKSC 16

The UK Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal on the ‘benefits cap’ which limits the benefits an out-of work family can receive to £500 per week.  The cap was introduced in 2013 and is applied regardless of family size or circumstances such as rental costs.

Five judges heard the appeal which was taken by two lone mothers who argued that the cap was unlawful in disproportionately affecting single parents and domestic violence victims, who tend to be women.  One mother left her husband because he was abusing her and her eldest daughter.  She lives, with her six children, in an overcrowded two-bedroom flat in East London.  After rent, the benefit cap leaves her and her children with £80 per week. The other mother, who suffered a long history of domestic abuse by her former husband, lives in a two bedroom apartment with her three children.  Due to the benefit cap her family faces a shortfall of £50 per week in their rent. 

The Court found that the effect of the policy was not compatible with the government’s obligations under Article 3(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to treat the best interests of the child as a primary consideration. Quite specifically, the Court stated that the cap deprived the children of “the means of having adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing”.

However, a majority of 3-2 held that the policy did not breach Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) prohibiting discrimination. As the ECHR forms part of national law under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the UNCRC does not, the appeal was dismissed.

Click here for an article from The Human Rights Blog.  Commentary from Child Poverty Action Group, who intervened in the case, can be found here.

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