Social policy expert plays a key role in benefits cap High Court challenge

A group of single parents with young children have won a High Court ruling against the Government's benefits cap

The High Court ruling related to single parents with babies and toddlers under the age of two

A University of York social policy expert has played a key role in a successful High Court challenge against the Government’s controversial benefits cap scheme.

Emeritus Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from our School for Business and Society, provided expert evidence in a judicial review challenge brought by four single parents.

The High Court ruled that applying the cap to lone parents with children under two is unlawful because of its discriminatory impact upon children.

Mr Justice Collins said that the benefits cap was capable of “real damage” to the claimants and families like theirs across the country. He concluded: “Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

How the benefits cap works

Under the scheme, the amount some households can receive in benefits is capped at £20,000 or £23,000 in greater London. Claimants have to work at least 16 hours per week to be exempt - but lone parents with children under the age of two do not qualify for free childcare making it difficult to balance caring responsibilities with enough working hours to avoid the cap.

In his judgement, issued on 22 June,  Mr Justice Collins said: “The important consideration for the purposes of these claims is the difficulty and often the impossibility of lone parents with children under two being able to work because of the need to have some means of caring for the child.

“They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.”

Written evidence

Professor Bradshaw, a specialist in child poverty and social security policy, submitted written evidence on the impact of poverty in early childhood. He also challenged the Government’s assertion that work is the best route out of poverty.

Professor Bradshaw said: “Work may be a route out of poverty but evidence shows that 67 per cent of children living in poverty (in households with incomes less than 60 per cent of the median) have someone in their household in employment.

“So work is hardly a guarantee of moving out of poverty if that work is low paid, episodic or part-time.”

The importance of income

He said the child poverty rate is higher for lone parents than couples with children - and that evidence shows that income levels are a more significant factor in relation to children’s wellbeing than worklessness. 

“Indeed, other things being equal, the evidence suggests that there is no significant difference in terms of child outcomes between children in workless households and children in working households with the same level of income.”

The ruling concerned the reduced benefit cap introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016.

The Government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been given leave to appeal against the ruling.

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... work is hardly a guarantee of moving out of poverty if that work is low paid, episodic or part-time”

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw
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Professor Jonathan Bradshaw

Research interests in poverty, living standards and the welfare of children

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Find out more about the work of our School for Business and Society

Read coverage of the ruling from the BBC News website