A hearing challenging the government’s controversial benefit cap reduction enters its final day today.
After a battle through the legal system, three lone parents are bringing a final challenge against the “brutal benefit cap” imposed on them by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Supreme Court will be asked to rule on whether the revised cap breaches their right to be free from discrimination.
What is the Benefit Cap?
Changes to the benefits system were brought into place in 2013, under the Coalition Government. There have been a couple of amendments to the legislation since, but in practice, the scheme limits the amount people can receive in benefits unless they are working at least 16 hours a week.
Currently the maximum amount of benefits that those working less than 16 hours per week can receive totals £23,000 in London, and £20,000 in the rest of the country.
The cap was first introduced alongside the bedroom tax, which penalised benefits claimants living in a Housing Association home with a ‘spare’ bedroom.
The bedroom tax was declared discriminatory and unlawful in January 2016.
Who is Bringing the Case to Court?
The claimants are two women who are single parents outside London and have been unable to find work. They have children of various ages, including children under 2.
One, with four children, lost entitlement to £80 a week, while a mother of five, who has three children with significant health needs, lost £110.
Why Does the Benefit Cap Discriminate Against Lone Parents in Particular?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The lone parents in this case argued that, with such young children, it was harder for them to find work than for others, especially as free childcare is only available in some circumstances for those with children aged between 2 and 4.
This has resulted in a lot of young mothers tasked with juggling a minimum of 16 hours work a week while caring for their children.
An estimated 26,000 lone parents with children under the age of two have been affected by the benefit cap since it was introduced in 2013, reported the Guardian, while Full Fact notes that 40,000 single parents have been affected in total.
These parents are losing on average £50 a week, according to Channel 4 News.
The cut has been described as a “brutal ” by Shelter’s CEO, Polly Neate. “This appeal offers a glimmer of hope for the thousands of single-parent families suffering because of the brutal benefit cap,” she said.
The History of the Case So Far
The High Court. Image: Geograph
The case has not been a straightforward one.
The High Court ruled in favour of the lone parents in June 2017.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Collins said that the restrictions imposed by the Work and Pensions Secretary cap were discriminatory, declaring that “real misery was being caused to no good purpose”.
But the decision was overturned by a two-to-one majority at the Court of Appeal in March 2018, which found that there was no discrimination against the claimants, since lone parents with children under two did not, said the Court, in practice face substantially greater difficulties that lone parents with older children in obtaining work.
The Court of Appeal said it was therefore not unreasonable of the government to fail to give them an exemption from the benefits cap.
It is this decision that is being challenged this week in the Supreme Court.
As today’s hearing shows, the parents haven’t given up the fight yet.
Lawyers for the parents intend to prove that the cuts have “drastically reduced housing benefits, leaving lone parent families across the country unable to afford basic life necessities to care for their children”.
After two days of testimonies, the proceedings conclude today.