The Government’s benefits cap is causing “real misery” to lone parents’ young children, the High Court has said in a damning judgment of austerity-driven welfare cuts.
In the damning judgment, Mr Justice Collins said the four single mothers who brought the case were left having to choose between paying rent or food and “unable to provide basic necessities for their children” because of a cap on housing benefit for parents who work less than 16 hours a week.
The cap was introduced in 2012 under the Cameron Government’s austerity drive and revised in 2016.
The judge said the cap illegally discriminated against single parents with young parents, who could not work because of childcare demands.
The claimants’ lawyers called his judgment “another blow to the austerity agenda”.
Mr Justice Collins highlighted how the cap was hurting the claimants and dismissed the Government’s defence of it.
Here are its seven most damning points from his judgment:
1. How the cap hit the claimants’ lives
Of the four women who went to court, two of them became homeless as a result of domestic violence and then could not work the required 16 hours a week to escape the cap, because they had to devote themselves to looking after their children.
One of them is a mother-of-three with mental health problems whose youngest child is just 18 months. The cap cost her £137 a week and, though she obtained assistance from the council, was told she had to return to work by February. Unable to afford to put her youngest child into a nursery, she could not return to work or college, as she hoped. She was forced to rely on food banks.
2. The DWP’s failure to address how the cap would hit single parents
Mr Justice Collins also noted the Department of Work and Pensions’ own impact assessment and analysis of the cap’s impact did not specifically address the difficulties lone parents with young children have in seeking work.
“The important consideration for the purposes of these claims is the difficulty and often the impossibility of lone parents with children under two being able to work because of the need to have some means of caring for the child,” he said.
3. ...And their justification for the policy in the first place
The judge attacked the DWP’s justification for the cap. The department said the cap incentivised parents to work because “it is not in the best interests of children to live in workless households”.
Mr Justice Collins responded: “It is difficult to see how that is realistic in relation to children under two.
“It is surely in their interests that they should have adequate food, shelter, warmth and care since deprivation of such will produce much greater harm.”
4. Calling a DWP claim in court ‘offensive’
During the hearing, one of the DWP’s barristers referred to its evidence, which said that lone parents “can and should exercise choice just as families have to do generally”.
“I am not impressed with this since I doubt anyone would choose to be a lone parent,” Mr Justice Collins said.
“Women in the position of the claimants are not lone parents by choice but because they have lost a partner who would share care with them, often from domestic violence. There is no question of real choice.”
In the most damning attack on the lawyer’s evidence, he added: “It is no part of the cap policy to seek to limit the size of families or to persuade women to avoid having children: at least two of the claimants found the reference to choice offensive. I am not surprised.”
5. A warning on the harm poverty can do
The judge wrote: “There is powerful evidence that very young children are particularly sensitive to environmental influences. Poverty can have a very damaging effect on children under the age of five.”
6. The claimants don’t need to be ‘incentivised’ to work
Mr Justice Collins said of the four women who brought the case: “They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement...
“Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”
7. It is ‘obvious’ the cap can only worsen poverty
“Those in need of welfare benefits fall within the poorest families with children. It seems that some 3.7 million children live in poverty and, as must be obvious, the cap cannot but exacerbate this.”
Jeremy Corbyn called the judgment “further demonstration of the failure of this government’s austerity agenda”.
He added: ”“The Prime Minister should accept the High Court’s judgment and end this discrimination against parents and children.”
Rebekah Carrier, the claimants’ solicitor, said the cap had a “catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families”.
She added: “Single mothers like my clients have been forced into homelessness and reliance on food banks as a result of the benefit cap.
“Thousands of children have been forced into poverty, which has severe long term effects on the health and well-being.
“We are pleased that today’s decision will relieve my clients – and other lone parent families around the country – from the unfair impacts of austerity measures which have prevented them from being able to provide basic necessities for their children.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said they were “disappointed” and would appeal the judgment.
“We are disappointed with the decision and we are appealing. Work is the best way to raise living standards, and many parents with young children are employed,” she said.
“The benefit cap incentivises work, even if it’s part-time, as anyone eligible for working tax credits or the equivalent under Universal Credit, is exempt.
“Even with the cap, lone parents can still receive benefits up to the equivalent salary of £25,000, or £29,000 in London and we have made Discretionary Housing Payments available to people who need extra help.”