Equality and Human Rights Commission warns welfare cap may break law
Benefit threat to human rights
Whitehall plans to cap benefit for workless households could violate the Human Rights Act, according to legal advice obtained by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The Welfare Reform Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, will cap benefits at £26,000 a year for lone parents and couples from April 2013.
The way the cap is calculated, based on median household earnings for all households, has drawn criticism from peers, many of whom fear the cap will disproportionately hit families.
In a debate this week, Labour peer Baroness Ruth Lister revealed legal advice given to the EHRC said: ‘There must be concern the cap on benefits will result in a violation of the HRA.’
The advice, by Karon Monaghan QC, states that the bill’s measures could violate article 3, which prohibits inhuman treatment and article 8, which upholds respect for family life.
A cross-party group of peers believes the cap unfairly punishes workless families as working families with children have higher income.
Peer John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, suggested any cap should be set in line with the income of working families with children. In response, the welfare minister re-iterated the government’s belief the cap should be set at around £500 a week. Lord David Freud argued the bill will be flexible enough to allow governments to adapt the way it estimates average earnings in future. He also said the government will look at how it will ease the transition of families to the new system.
Peers were due to debate further amendments as Inside Housing went to press, including a call for a 26-week grace period and for housing benefit to be removed from cap calculations.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said it was satisfied the cap will meet the requirements of the Human Rights Act.
Inside Housing has been calling for more equitable welfare reform through its What’s the Benefit? campaign.