Labour has called on the Government not to appeal a High Court judgement that the benefit cap discriminates against lone parents with young children, as new figures show that thousands of households affected by the cap are lone parents with children under the age of two.
Earlier this year the High Court ruled that the benefit cap unlawfully targets single parents with children under the age of two, with Judge Collins saying it serves “no good purpose” and is causing “real misery”.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced its intention to appeal the High Court’s ruling. DWP Minister Caroline Dinenage defended the decision, saying the Government had spent £10 million on just 300 larger families before the cap was introduced.
Figures published by the DWP reveal that around 20,000 households affected by the cruel policy are lone-parent families with children under two.
Almost half (49%) of the 88,000 affected households were single parents with children under the age of five. And the data shows that 63% of the 88,000 households who have so far been caught out by the benefit cap are single-parent families.
The cap limits the total amount a household can receive in state benefits and tax credits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit, to no more than £23,000 a year in London and £20,000 for those living elsewhere.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams MP says this new, lower cap is “pushing more children into poverty” and urged the Government to “listen to the High Court’s judgement”.
Ms Abrahams said:: “As we warned, the impact of this and the Government’s other social security cuts is pushing more children into poverty, punishing them for their parent’s circumstances”.
She added: “The Government must listen to the High Court’s judgment that this policy is discriminatory and unlawful, marking another blow in their failing austerity agenda.
“Labour has stood against the reduction of the benefit cap. We need to tackle our struggling economy, labour market inequalities and the high cost of housing rather than penalising children.”
Her comments echo those made by SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who described the Government’s intention to appeal the High Courts decision as “truly shocking”.
Speaking during a debate in Westminster Hall, Thewliss told MPs: “The DWP says that it intends to appeal this decision.
“I find this truly shocking and I would urge the Minister here today to reconsider, unless she supports misery being caused for no good purpose.
“The Government has a choice, it does not have to spend, to waste, further money on appealing this.
“It has already wasted more than £500,000, I understand, at least in other court appeals to do with the bedroom tax and the carer’s allowance.
“It should not waste more public funds on appealing a case which has already been proven to be an injustice.
“They should put their hands up and say, ‘there is an injustice here and we will put this right in the interests of the children who are affected by this’.”
Dinenage admitted in response to a written question from SNP MP Marion Fellows: “Legal fees of defending the case in the High Court are £67,690.
“This figure includes VAT where payable – for example, on counsel’s fees – and disbursements but does not include costs attributable to time spent by Government advisory lawyers, as time spent by such advisory lawyers is not recorded in a manner that allows it to be attributable to individual court cases. DWP has also paid £125,000 (plus VAT) towards the claimants’ costs.”
Responding to the High Court’s ruling in June this year, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group said: “In exposing the absurdity and cruelty of the benefit cap, we hope this case is the beginning of the end for this nasty policy.
“It is a policy that punishes the vulnerable for being vulnerable and even fails on its own terms.
“Marketed as a policy all about forcing people who are able to work into work, the shocking reality is that the government itself acknowledges 7 in 8 households hit by the cap cannot work because they are looking after very young children, are too ill to work or have a work-limiting disability. Two thirds of families affected are lone parents.
“We have the ridiculous situation where one part of the DWP has been telling lone parents with very young children that it understands they should not be expected to work, and another part of the DWP is punishing them severely for exactly the same thing.
“Given the obvious barriers to work facing affected families, it is not surprising that in the Government’s own evaluation only 16% of capped families moved into work, against 11% that would’ve moved into work anyway.
“It is for these very reasons why CPAG has also brought a legal case on behalf of two lone parents and their families challenging the lawfulness of the cap as it applies to lone parents irrespective of the age of their youngest child.”