Five single parents and their children have lost challenges against the government’s benefit cap at the UK’s highest court.
Justices sitting at the Supreme Court in London on Wednesday rejected the appeals by a majority of five to two in cases brought against work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd over the lawfulness of the cap.
The justices acknowledged that the £20,000 annual limit on welfare payments had an “often harsh” effect on single parents and said that the legislation that introduced the revised cap was “tough”.
But they said it did not breach the parents’ and children’s human rights despite hearing evidence suggesting that they had been plunged into poverty.
Actions were brought by the single mothers and their children relating to the losses suffered following the lowering of the cap on the maximum weekly benefit income from £500 a week to £384.62 in January 2017.
One woman with four children lost entitlement to £80 a week. A mother of five, who has three children with significant health needs, lost £110.
The judgement, which was delivered after the panel considered the case for 10 months, said that the evidence had persuaded all seven justices that the cap had a major impact on lone parents with children under school age because it was “particularly difficult for them to go out to work”.
Adults can avoid the cap by working, and a lone parent must do so for 16 hours a week to qualify. But lawyers for the parents said that the cap had “drastically” reduced housing benefits, leaving many families unable to afford basic necessities to care for their children.
It was argued that they should be exempted because of the difficulty in finding work compatible with childcare responsibilities.
But one of the justices, Lord Wilson, in concluding that the appeals “must fail”, said the majority considered that “we cannot go so far as to say that this application of the cap is manifestly without foundation”.
Lady Hale, who ruled in favour of the five women who brought the appeals, said that “this seems to me a clear case where the weight of the evidence shows that a fair balance has not been struck between the interests of the community and the interests of the children concerned and their parents”.
She declared that there was “unjustified discrimination” against lone parents of children under the age of five, and against those children.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, and is a blow to the many lone parents who are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads due to the benefit cap. Some families we work with are left with 50p a week towards their rent.
“The court heard extensive evidence that the cap is not meeting the government’s intended aims and is, in fact, causing severe hardship and destitution for families.”