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Supreme Court finds Benefit Cap in breach of children's rights

Supreme Court finds Benefit Cap in breach of children's rights

The most senior court in the UK, the Supreme Court, has today (18th March 2015) declared that the ‘benefit cap’ breaches the government’s international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; it overrides the rights of children.   The benefit cap is a fixed limit on the total amount of state benefits which a household can receive, regardless of their family size or circumstances. In the ground breaking judgment, a majority of the Supreme Court state the cap is not compatible with the government’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration.  Two of the five Judges also found it to be unlawful discrimination against women.

The judgment calls for the government to address the implications of the finding of the majority of the Supreme Court, that the benefit cap scheme breaches the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its review of the benefit cap.

Whilst we are disappointed that - by the slimmest of majorities only ( 3:2)  - the Supreme Court declined to find that the scheme breaches national law we welcome the robust clarity of the remarks in the judgment. The case did not secure an outright victory for our clients because of a legal technicality but this does not prevent the government taking action now to alleviate the poverty and deprivation that the benefit cap has produced.  This judgement is relevant to the thousands of households throughout the UK whose children are living daily with the harsh effects of the benefit cap which is depriving them of adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing. Lady Hale, the deputy President of the Supreme Court said in her judgment:

‘The prejudicial effect of the cap is obvious and stark.  It breaks the link between benefit and need. Claimants affected by the cap will, by definition, not receive the sums of money which the State deems necessary for them adequately to house, feed, clothe and warm themselves and their children’ (paragraph 179).

‘It cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children affected by the cap to deprive them of the means to provide them with adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing, the basic necessities of life.’ (paragraph 225).

Our clients call on this government to amend the benefit cap scheme so as to ensure that it complies with the internationally recognised standards for the welfare of children. The benefit cap cannot be seen as an economic measure without considering the impact :  it is a system that has left children living a life of great deprivation and hardship, not experienced by other children in the UK.

More information about this case

An article by The Guardian can be read here  

A blog post in the UK Human Rights Blog can be found here

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