Court of Appeal backs ‘cruel, unnecessary, and ineffective’ benefit cap

Government goes on the attack to defeat High Court ruling against a benefit cap for single parents branded as bringing “real misery to no good purpose”.

'Far-reaching reforms' required to address universal credit flaws

Shelter has vowed to fight a “cruel, unnecessary, and ineffective” court backed benefit cap on lone parents with children under two years.

The Government fought to hit around 20,000 single parents with the cap – which was upheld in the Court of Appeal.

That decision over-turned a High Court ruling that the cap should not apply to single parents with a child under two – of which there were an estimated 19,700.

Then, the cap –  which limits total household benefits to £20k a year  or £23k in London – was described as causing “real misery to no good purpose”.

The Government went into attack mode to have its appeal upheld.

It was a ‘win’ for work and pensions secretary Esther McVey in the week she secured a Commons vote to slash free school meal availability.

A ‘win’ secured by Government lawyers Government lawyers arguing the original legal analysis had been “flawed in various ways” and the judge having not identified the disadvantaged group “with sufficient precision.”

To the Government, the cap is a “clear incentive” to work in employment that fits around caring responsibilities – with Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) available as support.

The four women involved are now set to counter-appeal in the Supreme Court.

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine, the solicitors acting for the families, said: “The benefit cap has had a catastrophic impact upon vulnerable lone parent families and children across the country.

Speaking after the case, Shelter’s Chief Executive, Polly Neate, said the initial High Court ruling branded the blanket application of the benefit cap to single parents with very young children as flawed and discriminatory.

She said: “In reality, this cap hauls many single-parent-families below the poverty line so they can’t even give their children basic necessities like food and clothes, let alone pay for extras like school trips and birthday presents.

“It is a cruel, unnecessary, and ineffective way of achieving what the government claims is its aim of getting people into work.

“At Shelter, we frequently hear from lone parents who are facing homelessness because of the benefit cap.

Many desperately want to work but can’t make up the required hours each week because jobs are low paid, insecure and temporary while childcare is expensive.

The judgement recognises the incredible hardship caused by the cap, so we urge the government to listen to this and do the right thing by scrapping the benefit cap immediately.

“Whilst we are deeply unhappy with today’s outcome, we won’t give up – and this isn’t the end of our fight, as the cap has a devastating impact on children and families.

We are now looking ahead to support a further legal challenge which will be heard in the High Court later this month.”

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is also putting its hopes in a second, wider High Court case – on whether all single parents are hit unfairly by the benefit cap.

CPAG solicitor Carla Clarke branded the policy “absurd and “irrational” in leaving so many lone parents stranded – unable to cut their outgoings any further yet unable to escape the cap by finding a paid job which they can combine with their multiple caring responsibilities, precisely because they are caring for children alone.

Campaigners claim the cap amounts to “social cleansing” with rents in inner-city areas rocketing.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says claimants argued people are exempt from the cap if they work at least 16 hours a week.

But the original judge said it was “impossible” for the four single parents in the case to do that.

Backgroundwho are the claimants?

The Government argues abstracts to protect an ideological position.

Here’s the real lives affected by the Government’s stance.

A was homeless living with her young child in a refuge as a result of serious domestic violence which led to her having to leave her council flat.

At the time of the initial case she was expecting another child, limiting her ability to accept work – though she stresses she is anxious to work when she can.

When living in the refuge, she was not subjected to the cap since it does not apply to those victims of violence who have to live in a refuge.

She has now been given emergency accommodation costing £247 per week and has investigated the possibility of private accommodation.

But very few private landlords are prepared to accept tenants who depend on housing benefit  – particularly if they are capped.

The council has refused to allow her to join its housing list since she came from outside its area as she was fleeing violence and does not have the necessary four year residence in the borough.

She has been told that when capped she will have £217 per week available for rent.

She has mental and physical problems as does her son.

B is a lone parent of three young children.

She is a recovering drug user living in private rented accommodation.

She was evicted from her previous accommodation because her landlord wanted to sell the property and moved to cheaper accommodation having been unable to obtain assistance from the council.

Having been subjected to the cap, there was a shortfall of £137.18 per week.

As a result of childhood abuse, she suffers from mental health problems.

At her job centre but was not informed of the existence of the flexible support fund which is supposed to provide some support for those who are unable to find work.

She wanted to return to college to complete her studies in order to improve her prospects of finding work but cannot do that so long as her youngest child needs her care.

She has made enquiries of local childcare nurseries and child minders, many did not take children under 2 and the minimum fee for those who did was £4.25 per hour which was impossible for her to meet.

C has four children.

She has no support from the two fathers of her children and lives in accommodation acknowledged as very unsatisfactory which needs repair and is too small.

She worked until she was made redundant when pregnant with her first child since when she has not worked, considering that she needed to look after her children, but intends to work when her youngest is able to receive childcare which she can afford.

She had intended to work but her pregnancy, which was not intended, prevented it.

She was capped in January last year, seeing a shortfall of £54 per week between her Housing Benefit and her rent and has had great difficulty in obtaining a DHP – meaning she has cut back on food to make ends meet.

has four children and was victim of a long-term abusive relationship.

She had been living in suitable accommodation, but the cap caused a shortfall of £151.76 per week.

She was able to obtain DHPs but only for short terms and with no promise that they would continue.

On one occasion she was granted a DHP only to receive a letter dated to that same day saying it had been cancelled.

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