Court ruling expected soon on domestic violence challenge to the total Benefit Cap
On Tuesday 29 April, Women Against Rape and others held a vigil outside the UK Supreme Court in Parliament Square, to support the legal challenge to the government’s “total Benefit Cap”. The Cap, which limits a family’s total benefit to £500 per week, including rent and Child Benefit, traps women and children in violent relationships – a violent man in waged work is not capped, but the woman who leaves him, is. We went in to monitor the case, and anxiously await the outcome – the ruling is expected soon.
This Supreme Court challenge to the Cap, is joined by another challenge against “bedroom tax” by a single mother fleeing domestic violence whose Housing Benefit is cut for having a safe room in her secured housing, in case her violent ex-partner tries to break in. And more challenges to the Cap, bedroom tax and Council Tax are under way.
The challenge before five Supreme Court judges was whether the “Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012 are unlawful because they unjustifiably discriminate against lone parents and victims of domestic violence, who are predominantly women, and fail to have regard to the best interests of the child”. http://supremecourt.uk/cases/case_2014_0079.html It is being brought by two single mothers and their children, fleeing domestic violence. Their solicitor Rebekah Carrier describes the Cap as ‘catastrophic, cruel and arbitrary’.
The court heard from a legal team representing the families, the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Shelter. Their case included that:
• The Benefit Cap discriminates against women, disproportionately hitting women fleeing domestic violence and single mothers. Traumatised mothers are less likely to be able to get waged work to escape the cap. A girl in one of the families is traumatised by abuse – such children need their mothers, not unfamiliar childminders while the mothers go out to work.
• The policy goes against the best interests of children. By January 2014, more than 100,000 children had been made homeless – not a small-scale policy. (We are shocked at this level of brutality towards children – the emotional harm done to them can only be seen as violence against children!)
• Women going into emergency accommodation to flee domestic violence are entitled to dual rent so they can return to their home – but dual rents are bound to exceed the Cap, so this deters women from leaving violent partners. Women’s Aid fear the death toll could rise, of women murdered by partners – already, more than two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners.
• Families placed in temporary accommodation by the Council have no choice about where they go or how much it costs.
• The actual impact of the Cap is much worse than set out in official documents, but Department for Work and Pensions predictions have not been reassessed according to the reality. Discretionary housing payments are not reliable or a long-term answer.
• The courts have a responsibility to address discrimination in social policy, and the Cap already has exemptions, such as for some disabled people.
• MPs and Lords who wanted amendments to the Welfare Reform Act, such as keeping Child Benefit out of the Cap, were promised by the government that their concerns would be dealt with by the regulations – yet this has not been done.
The judges asked various questions. Baroness Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, asked if the Cap was about discouraging people from having children. (This too, goes against the human rights they are considering.) The CPAG pointed out that large families could not change their size, and that parents in paid work get benefits on top of wages – including Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit, so the £500 a week “average earnings” to justify the level of the Cap, was false. Also, one of the single mothers in the case has only two children but still exceeds the Cap due to her high rent. Her and the children’s benefit is a small proportion – her personal allowance is meagre.
Last year, Women Against Rape (WAR) launched a petition on behalf of women and children escaping violent relationships, and is campaigning with others to “Scrap the Benefit Cap!” In Parliament, the Early Day Motion sponsored by John McDonnell MP calls on the government to lift the cap to protect current and potential victims of domestic violence. The government has been forced to respond to the many objections and since 10 April this year, some women in refuges and hostels are protected, but the majority – like the mothers and children in the legal challenge – are not.
Sign our petition here to scrap the cap NOW, get your organisation to endorse it, like it to your friends on Facebook and Twitter – we need as many signatures as possible. The petition is endorsed by the Black Women’s Rape Action Project, and others.
Ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 980
Watch Don’t Cap My Benefits and share the link (BBC Panorama, 10 April).
For more information about the campaign contact WAR Tel: 020 7482 2496 firstname.lastname@example.org
About the legal challenge: Rebekah Carrier, Hopkin Murray Beskine. Tel: 020 7272 1234