UK benefits cap is lawful but breaches UN children’s rights obligations

Date: 18th March 2015
Category: Best interests of the child, Family Environment and Alternative Care, Child poverty

The UK Supreme Court rules that the UK Government's £500-a-week cap on benefits is lawful but incompatible with UK obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The controversial cap limits the total amount of benefits an out-of-work family can receive, including housing benefit and benefits for children, to £500 per week. It is applied regardless of family size or circumstances such as rental costs. As a result, lone parents with children in large families are disproportionately affected, both because they are more likely to be hit by the cap and because they are less likely to be able to avoid its effects.

The Supreme Court was sharply divided on March 18th 2015 over whether the benefit cap breaches the Human Rights Act. The appeal, which was brought by two single mothers and their children who had fled violent and abusive husbands, was dismissed by a majority. All the judges agreed that the cap has a disproportionate impact on lone parents, who are overwhelmingly women. The judges found the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, had failed to "show how the cap was compatible with his obligation to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration" (Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)).

One of the judges, Lord Carnwarth, said that he hoped the government would address the implications of the ruling and reconsider the effect on children when it reviews the benefit cap.