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.’
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