Single mothers in High Court victory over government’s benefit cap

Judge says controversial cap is causing misery and was never meant to apply to the most vulnerable families

It really was a David and Goliath struggle. But a group of single mothers have won a striking legal victory over the government on controversial benefit legislation which they said was pushing them into poverty.

A High Court judge sided with the families, who had argued the benefit cap policy discriminated against them and was therefore unlawful.

Mr Justice Collins condemned the cap, saying it was not meant to apply to single-parent families with children under two. “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose,” he added.

The policy, which limits the cash out-of-work families receive from the government to £20,000 a year (£23,000 in London), is aimed at incentivising work, the government says. Parents must work 16 hours per week to avoid the cap.

But the judge said: “The evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Single-parent charity Gingerbread provided a witness statement and written evidence to the High Court, showing that the legislation unfairly affects parents with babies and toddlers who find it most difficult to find flexible employment and childcare that would allow them to work.

When it comes to single parents, the benefit cap rules risked pushing them into ever deeper poverty

The charity highlighted the shortage of part-time work, and said that when vacancies arise they are often at unsuitable times or for fewer than the necessary 16 hours.

It found that 72 per cent of those affected by the cap were single-parent households, and of these, 35 per cent had children under two. The charity said this amounted to 26,000 single-parent families who had been affected to date.

Gingerbread’s head of policy Dalia Ben-Galim said: “This is a fantastic result that offers real hope for some of the most vulnerable families in the UK. When it comes to single parents, the benefit cap rules risked pushing them into ever-deeper poverty. We hope the government will now commit to making sure this policy aligns with wider welfare rules for families with such young children.”

Elsewhere in welfare rules the government recognises the caring responsibility of parents with very young children, who are not expected to look for work. But the benefit cap clearly contradicts this.

The ruling was made in response to a judicial review brought by four single parents and the judge said he was “satisfied that the claims must succeed” against Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke.

The DWP said it was disappointed with the decision and would appeal. There will be no change to the legislation while it challenges the ruling.