Benefit cap breaches children’s rights, says Supreme Court

The cap has a disproportionate effect on women and children and can make life impossible for victims of domestic violence


Supreme Court judges have found that the government’s benefit cap fails to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says the interests of the child must be paramount.

Although the Court declined to overturn the controversial policy, which it said was a matter for the political and not the legal arena, three of the five judges said that the cap deprived children of ‘the basic necessities of life’ and made them ‘suffer from a situation which is not of their making and which they themselves can do nothing about’.

The benefit cap, which was introduced in 2013, limits the benefits an out-of-work family can receive to £500 per week. This includes housing benefit and benefits for children, and is applied regardless of family size or circumstances such as rental costs.

The appeal was brought by two single mothers and their children who had fled domestic violence and were threatened with homelessness as a result of the cap. One of the women lives in a two-bedroom flat with her six children, the youngest of whom is four years old. The woman, referred to as Mrs SG, was unable to sustain a job because of the demands of childcare. After rent, the benefits cap left her and her children with £80 per week to live on.

The second woman, Mrs NS, fled violence and sexual abuse with her three children, but found that the benefits cap left her with a shortfall of £50 per week in rent. Although her husband had been ordered to stay away from children, in her desperation Mrs NS was forced to turn to him for money.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) intervened in the case, providing evidence that the cap has a disproportionate effect on women and children and that the money saved is ‘marginal at best’.

Lady Hale, one of the judges, added that:

“As CPAG point out, the government accepted in its grounds of resistance to the claim that ‘the aim of incentivising claimants to work may be less pertinent for those who are not required to work’ (such as parents with young children)”.  

A majority found that the benefits cap did not breach Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination.  This meant that the appeal was dismissed, because the European Convention is incorporated into UK law, while the UN Convention is not. However Lord Carnwath,  who provided the crucial swing vote dismissing the appeal,  said nevertheless that he hoped the government would consider its compliance with international law in its review of the benefit cap.

Commenting today, Alison Garnham, chief executive of the CPAG, said:

“The women and children involved in this case were escaping horrific abuse.  As three of the judges have said: ‘It cannot be in the best interests of the children affected by the cap to deprive them of the means of having adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing’. We hope the Government will listen to the Court and comply with international law on the protection of children.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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47 Responses to “Benefit cap breaches children’s rights, says Supreme Court”

  1. Dave Stewart

    I’m sick of discussion about poverty which this indirectly is always being framed around children. The argument being that it is not their fault they are in poverty which of course is true but the flipside of that is the assumption that adults in poverty are to blame for their own poverty. Obviously there is a tiny minority of people who are in poverty entirely of their own making but for the vast majority of people living in poverty (regardless of their age) the chances are that it is not their fault.

    Poverty for the most part is caused by systemic problems with the way our economy and society are run. To assign blame to people for being in poverty is a huge leap back into the Victorian era of deserving and undeserving poor.

  2. may non

    cameron says people choose a life on benefits”the well trodden path” being poor is so cool!

  3. Nissemus

    Silence from Labour so far on whether they still intend to keep the benefit cap in light of this. Rachel Reeves even said they were looking at lowering it.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Well of course. Remember, they’re also signed onto the overall cap, which the Tories would have breached if it were already in force, which means sharp cuts to benefits.

  5. Dan Delion

    Pensioner widows, already in poverty with income below £10k, also face further deprivation after this budget. Following the train of Tory logic, they will soon be charging the poor for consuming oxygen ‘needed’ for CO2 generating internal combustion engines & power stations, etc.

  6. Robin

    If there’s a general benefit cap, regardless of circumstances, there ought also to be a general rent cap that matches it. You’d think it would be a lot easier to crack down on overcharging landlords than people in desperate circumstances who have nothing.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re trying to use logic here.

    The fact is though, that capping benefits is counter-cyclic and completely against the recommendations of even the right-wing international organisations, especially when inflation is so low.

    A rent cap (and tax on empty property) is a good idea regardless, of course.

  8. Kevin Stall

    Shouldn’t the question be could the average person in the same circumstances be expected to survive on these amounts? Who knows what they spend their money on? Are they spending the money responsibility? Or are the adults spending the money on themselves?

  9. Kevin Stall

    No but it is easier than working a job you don’t like. I’m sure everyone knows several people who do benefits because it is the path of least resistance.

  10. Kevin Stall

    Pensioners are not part of the case.

  11. Kevin Stall

    There is already a tax on empty property.

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    There is just no longer an exception to council tax for it.
    But I am talking about a value tax, perhaps 2% per year.

  13. Guest

    You’re “sure” that there are evil scroungers at the gates. That there isn’t enough punishment for the poor, that incomes are too high, blah blah.

    Pure propaganda.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    Oh right, so the kids should suffer because you can’t control what people spend in enough detail. Who “knows” if they buy a bottle of wine for their birthday once a year, utterly intolerable in your world!

    And the UK’s benefits are illegally low, incidentally.

  15. Kevin Stall

    So if the parents spend all the benefits money, it is the government s fault? If the children don’t get enough to eat the government is at fault because they didn’t throw enough money at the parents. Maybe to ensure the children are taken care of and have enough to eat you would prefer the government take the children away for safe keeping?

    And for it to be illegal, there would have to be a law setting minimum amounts. You hide your ignorance behind your anonymity. You want a government that takes care of everyone by taking away peoples freedoms. Everyone who disagrees with you must be rich and have shares in the various companies. Sorry to disappoint you but I own no shares in any company and my income is within a free thousands of the people receiving benifits. I am not rich yet live within means. I have earned minimum wage and still manage to live fairly well and lived on a lot less than the people receiving benefits. In fact most of my life I have lived on less than they get. So I know what they get is enough if they live carefully and not waste money on luxuries. My wife and her first husband lived on a lot less with several kids. My wife grew up with a lot less and still had a good childhood. There are a lot of things you can get by without, you don’t need big screen tv’s, or game consoles or smartphones. You do need parents that teach you to learn, live within your means and provide you with a wholesome environment to grow in.

  16. Kevin Stall

    You prefer rewards for being poor and not working? Just wait till your glorious workers paradise shows up and see how they treat people unwilling to work. How well will they like the work camps? Or will they jump at being party leaders and secret police?

  17. Kevin Stall

    2% a year would be prohibitive, that would really raise rents. £3,000 a year raise in a most house rent would cause more homelessness. Remember someone will pay the tax and it is rarely the owner’s it is a rental property. 2% is an extremely high property tax rate and removes property ownership from most people’s grasp. The rich would pay it without pain if it was in their interest. So it accomplishes very little.

  18. Kevin Stall

    Why, the people on benefits aren’t paying their own rent. If you live in a lower cost area rents are more reasonable. Too many people on benefits take advantage of benefits by living in expensive area. Too many destroy the housing or run out on the rents. Renting to someone on benefits is a gamble and result in higher rents. I have friends who work in DWP and in housing allowance and hear the horror stories.

  19. Kevin Stall

    That’s right no exemption for it so they have to pay full council taxes for it already.

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    …And that’s not the new tax I’m calling for.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    What complete nonsense. It would lower rents, as more houses would be on the market.
    This is a tax on EMPTY housing.

    You’re not reading what I type.

  22. Guest

    Oh right, so you bring up a chimera of the evil poor, and on the basis of that try and ensure that the parents will NOT have enough cash to feed the kids properly.

    YOU are the one talking about taking kids away from parents.

    And you’re now denying court rulings. Sad. You lash out, showing your ignorance to the world, as you use your PC bigotry against me, rich man.

    You just own a holding company or whatever other tax dodge you use, right – I don’t really care. As you say that illegally low and plummeting benefits are just fine, that abject poverty, soaring homelessness and malnutrition are great.

    That you hate people enough to see their being poor as a good thing…as you talk about things which the poor can only dream about. Hungry kids can’t learn properly, regardless of their parents, as you argue that the poor don’t need food and shelter, that again the poor are evil because they don’t have the cash to provide a decent “enviromnment”.

    So yes, I’m sure you’re all for taking kids away from the poor because you blame them for being so.

  23. Guest

    Oh yes, if you live away from where jobs are, rents are lower. Too many poorer people have jobs, by living in non-slum areas. As you make out that poorer people magically trash houses by being poor, and that income cuts which mean they can’t pay rent are their faults.

    You are a bigot against the poor, and your fellow bigots at the DWP who hate the poor and are out to punish them…that they tell the horror stories of how they attack and punish the poor, evidently stories you love and relish.

    Sanctions are designed to harm health, you must think they’re brilliant as you sit back and cackle, rich man. As you make excuses for higher rents and bigotry against the poor. You’re a sadist.

  24. Guest

    I’m not the one calling for your slave camps and mandatory unpaid work.
    Neither do I share your love for parties and secret police.

    You’re projecting.

    Keep calling for denying the poor food and shelter.

  25. Kevin Stall

    Leon, you seem to think that we should support the poor with unlimited funds. The benefits package is sufficient to support their families. They are receiving more than most of the workers. They receive the equivalent of over 30,000 pretax income. Way more than the employees at DWP. Who tend to be AA grade in the offices, making around 20-23,000 a year.

    If the parents won’t spend the money they are given on the kids then what should be done? Throw even more money away? If someone on benefits has enough money to go to Spain or elsewhere in Europe they are receiving too much money.

  26. Kevin Stall

    And do you think there money would come out of ghee owners pockets? If it is a rental property then they will recoup the tax from the renters.

    How many empty – liveable properties do you think are out there?

  27. Guest

    Lord Blagger, you’ve routinely called for genocide against the poor.

    As you say illegaly low benefits, which are set to be massively slashed are “sufficient”, as toy make up nonsense about incomes, and ignore what working people receive in benefits.

    That you see the poor surviving as “throwing money away” is typical. As you condemn people travelling for work, or when a richer family member gives them cash

    The poor can’t afford it themselves, you’re making up nonsense to justify further cuts to food money. Starvation is Good, your motto.

  28. Guest

    Let’s see…government statistics say a lot.

    And you’ve not read a thing I see, since rental properties in use are not empty. Oh wait, I know, you mean the tax dodge of declaring the property empty and not paying tax on the rent.

    Cry more.

  29. Kevin Stall

    The money comes from someone, so the owner will put the price bump. Leon, it is a simple principal. Owner figures The tax into the rent so they make the same profit. Or do you not understand how business works. Do you need it made even sampler? But why is it empty in t h e first place?

  30. Guest

    You are claiming tax on EMPTY property will be paid on OCCUPIED property. You are saying that your FRAUDULENT non-reporting of tenants must be protected, that FRAUD is how business works.

    There is nothing to pay for *honest* owners, who have tenants. And pay tax.

  31. Kevin Stall

    I’m saying that in business, all cost have to be recouped. So the rent will be increased to cover any tax you put on it. Besides empty houses are not that much of a problem. A house is usually empty before renovation. Bring it up to code or while it waits to sell. Empty properties also include properties where the owner has died and it takes a year to get it to the inheritor. You want to tax someone receiving their dead mothers semi?

  32. Kevin Stall

    I’m saying that in business, all cost have to be recouped. So the rent will be increased to cover any tax you put on it. Besides empty houses are not that much of a problem. A house is usually empty before renovation. Bring it up to code or while it waits to sell. Empty properties also include properties where the owner has died and it takes a year to get it to the inheritor. You want to tax someone receiving their dead mothers semi?

  33. Kevin Stall

    You seem to think there is unlimited money to throw at people already receiving sufficient amounts to live quite well. Your montrat is make the rich pay for it. Look at how well that worked for the French.

    Yes lets look at what they receive.

    JSA – up to £72.40
    Housing up to £500 per month
    Child benefit – 20.50 for 1st child 13.55 for additional children.
    Child tax credit – For each child Up to £2,750

    If one or more is disabled
    ESA -up to £101.15 a week if you’re in the work-related activity group

    DLA – up to 81.30 or a new car and an additional £56.75
    Carers allowance – 61.35 a week

    Benefits cap is £500 per week. So that means a family on benefits can receive £2000 / month. Plus disable benefits which is above the cap.

    Don’t forget that many of these are tax exempt meaning for someone working would have to receive 20% more.

    Now tell me why someone bringing in money like this can not afford to feed and clothe their kids? Why do they need more money than that?

  34. Guest

    You think that the poor can be cut indefinitely. The %GDP going to wages is at all-time lows. The French problem was government waffling, in fact – a better example is the Nordics, where there’s been no implosion.

    Keep pointing out how low benefits are. No % salary for the newly unemployed, a cap for breaking families, etc.

    Why do the poor need shelter and food. you cry, as you ignore living costs.

  35. Guest

    You’re saying you’re a a fraud – that’s the only way an occupied property pays the tax. There’s a lot of empty houses out there, you have no idea what it’s like in the UK, as usual.

    And probate would only take a year in the most unusual of situations. Moreover, that would be trivial to exempt.

    You’re just scared of having your mansions taxed for 2%. Just hire a servant to live-in, for frick sake.

  36. Kevin Stall

    You have no concept how business works, do you? If a landlord has a property he is trying to earn money with. All expenses for the property come out of the income they make from the property. If you add a tax to it, it doesn’t come from their pocket. It will become part of the rent. They may pay it up front but the next person to rent the house will find it has increased by that amount. So rents will go up in general as more people have to pay your arbitrary tax. You are just raising the cost of housing to make you feel better.

  37. Kevin Stall

    The French problem is that the rich are not serfs or chattel and are free to move and take their money elsewhere.

    As long as the poor yes need food and shelter. And I am all in favour of providing it. But they support should be at a subsistence level, not more than the working people receive. There is nothing wrong with taking charity, but it is not a way to live.

    If what you say is true about wages being at a low % of GDP going to wages, that is when you need to be even more careful with the limited funds available. If it is a scarce commodity then it must be spent wisely not thrown away hap hazardly.

  38. Kevin Stall

    Every property occupied or not pays tax. Not your imaginary tax put rates and council tax which is basically just a property tax. It is a unique thing in the UK, renters can be held responsible for it. But they would pay for it one way or another. Either through their rent or by being directly responsible for it.

  39. Guest

    Keep talking nonsense.

    You are ignoring what I said, of course. Because you don’t read pleb’s posts or whatever other excuse you have today.

    Remember, readers, I’m taking about a new tax on unoccupied property.

  40. Guest

    Keep trying to demand problems be as you imagine them.

    And right, you’re a good little slaver, demanding the poor be fed scraps in a poorhouse, how unsurprising. As you demand it go down faster and faster, and that as much as possible be withheld from the 99%.

    And of course you’ll murder people who dare need charity, They must not live, blah blah.

  41. Guest

    Keep making up nonsense which shows you have not read my post.

    You are claiming that your FRAUDULENT practice is “how business works” – of having tenants in property you are listing as unoccupied. You are claiming you will then charge them, FRAUDULENTLY, the new tax.

    That you call a targeted tax, for a specific reason “arbitrary”. as you try and lie about why you’re raising rents, as you claim that I have your greedy nature…

    Oh, and thanks for highlighting an offence that should be punishable with giving said tenants the ownership of the property.

  42. ArmandoARogers

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  43. Sue Jones

    I agree with what you say,entirely. However, because tory framing has worked, to some extent, and we live in a society tat tends to blame individuals for their poverty, at least ointing outthe impact that povery is having on children – considered tobe not responsible for their circumstances – it raises awareness a lttle, too.

  44. Sue Jones

    Most people who are currently claiming benefits have worked and paid tax. Including the majority of disabled people, too. The claimants are not the same ones from year to year. However, many experience a revolving door of low paid poor quality, insecure work, and needing to claim when the work ends, and so on. That’s the real “cycle of poverty”. Work isn’t paying, and that is not the fault of those unortunate enough to need to rely on a punitive, exploitative welfare to survive

  45. Dave Stewart

    The problem is that by using the same framing as the Tories you are tacitly accepting their narrative that there are deserving and undeserving poor. Children, even I’m sure in the most over the top Tory views, cannot possibly be undeserving. However singly pointing out these obviously “deserving poor” for special consideration accepts that there must also be undeserving poor who do not deserve our help or sympathy. Framing is so incredibly important to how people view politics and specific issues and every effort must be made to challenge distorting framing. The Tories and neolibrals in general have been very very good over the past 30 years at framing political debate. Look at Corbyn, his polices are not extreme left wing, they are more similar to those of Germany or even Britain in the 60s, but now because of this successful framing exercise he is ridiculed for being hard left and all the negative connotations that come along with it.

  46. Kevin Stall

    Yes they may have worked a low paying job for a couple of years. They have never paid enough to cover the years of money that they pull out of the system. These people choose a “cycle of poverty” by taking the path of least resistance. They don’t bother to learn a skill or get an education. My wife has worked at a college where some of these girls goals is to get pregnant then get their free home and five years of benefits without having to hunt for a job. And then they will have their 2nd child and another 5 years free and clear.

    The welfare system was suppose to be a emergency safety net, not a lifetime occupation. I personally know someone who never holds down a job longer than a month or so. And when she get a job interview she knows exactly how not to get the job that job service sent her for. I gave her a lead on a great apprenticeship and when they asked her why she wanted it, her answer because I sent her. Too many want only that perfect job.

  47. Kevin Stall

    There is only relative poverty in the UK, no real poverty. Most of those claiming have not worked that long or paid that much into the system. I am disable and have never needed to claim. I work full time. I know too many people who claim disability who are faking it. Can’t walk 100 feet yet can go for 3 hour line dancing.

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