LONDON (CN) – Four years after the United Kingdom’s £26,000 cap on welfare benefits survived a challenge by single mothers and their children, the country’s top court rejected discrimination claims Wednesday against newly imposed tighter limits.
The Conservative Party had made welfare cuts a cornerstone of its campaign ahead of the 2015 election and imposed the new caps immediately following the party’s victory that year. While the new law cuts welfare benefits to £20,000 per household in most of the country, families in greater London can collect £23,000 per household. With an exemption for single people who work a minimum of 16 hours per week, the cap is designed to encourage people to work.
After they saw their benefits reduced, five single mothers brought the suit here with their 11 children, all under the age of 5 at the start of the case.
They argued that lone parents are particularly affected by the benefits cap because of their difficulty looking after their children and finding work, but the court rejected the suit 5-2 on Wednesday.
“The appellants have not entered any substantial challenge to the government’s belief that there are better long-term outcomes for children who live in households in which an adult works,” Lord Nicholas Wilson wrote for the majority.
Voicing sympathy for the predicament in which the challengers find themselves, Lord Brian Kerr wrote in dissent that the evidence “decisively” refutes the government’s stated objectives in cutting benefits.
“One can only incentivize parents to obtain work if that is a viable option,” Kerr wrote. “The evidence in this case overwhelmingly shows that in most cases … this is simply not feasible. In particular, lone parents are placed in an impossible dilemma. If they go out to work, they must find the resources for childcare. Those in the [position of the families here] will routinely find it impossible to obtain employment which will remunerate them sufficiently to make this a sensible choice. They also face the difficulty of obtaining suitable childcare, irrespective of whether they can afford it.”
Wednesday’s ruling met with immediate criticism from activists at the Child Poverty Action Group, who suggesting the new welfare caps is “increasing poverty.”
Lawyers for the government meanwhile contend that the financial advantages of escaping the cap by work are so substantial that lone parents would be able to afford childcare out of their overall income.
The government also has a policy that provides free child care, although it is restricted for children under 2 years old.
Wednesday’s ruling concedes that the cap has hurt impact lone parents with young children, but says the government took these expected effects into consideration and weighed them against a reasonable interst.
Lady Brenda Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, also dissented from the majority.
“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 wrote.