The benefit cap introduced by the coalition government breaches the rights of children, the Supreme Court has said.
Despite this criticism, the highest judicial authority in the country ruled that the cap was lawful and declined to overturn it.
Introduced in 2013, the cap limits the amount of money a family can receive to £500 per week if none of them are employed. This includes housing and child benefits. The benefit cap is not affected by family size or varying costs.
The case was brought to the Court by two single mothers who argued that the cap was unlawful. They had both fled relationships which involved domestic violence and claimed that the cap had put them in danger of homelessness. One of the women had six children and the other had three. They were not identified in the judgment in case their former partners tracked them down.
Of the five judges who heard the case, three said that the cap did not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention says that a child’s best interests must be paramount in all signatory nations, which includes the United Kingdom.
Supreme Court Deputy President Lady Hale said the benefit cap makes children “suffer from a situation which is not of their making and which they themselves can do nothing about”.
However, a majority of the Court also ruled that the cap did not breach Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This states that a person’s rights “shall be secured without discrimination on any ground”. The majority of justices said that because the cap did not discriminate, it was therefore lawful.
Alison Garnham is the chief executive of charity the Child Poverty Action Group, which intervened in the case on behalf of the two mothers. Ms Garnham expressed hope that the government would “comply with international law on the protection of children” after the criticism the cap received by the Court.