SNP MP Alison Thewliss has called on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to drop its appeal against a High Court ruling that the controversial benefits cap unlawfully discriminates against single parents with young children.
Earlier this year, a High Court judge said the cap was causing “real misery” for lone parents with children under the age of two and serves “no good purpose”.
Judge Collins added: “They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.
“Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP (Discretionary Housing Payments), they will remain benefit households.”
DWP Minister Caroline Dinenage has insisted the government is right to appeal the decision, telling MPs that the department had spent £10 million on just 300 larger families before the cap was introduced.
But Alison Thewliss described the DWP’s intention to appeal against the High Court ruling as “truly shocking” and called on the DWP to reconsider.
Speaking during a debate in Westminster Hall, Thewliss said: “The DWP says that it intends to appeal this decision.
“I find this truly shocking and I would urge the Minister here today to reconsider, unless she supports misery being caused for no good purpose.
“The Government has a choice, it does not have to spend, to waste, further money on appealing this.
“It has already wasted more than £500,000, I understand, at least in other court appeals to do with the bedroom tax and the carer’s allowance.
“It should not waste more public funds on appealing a case which has already been proven to be an injustice.
“They should put their hands up and say, ‘there is an injustice here and we will put this right in the interests of the children who are affected by this’.”
Thewliss said around 66,000 households have so far fallen into benefit cap trap, of which 72% are single parents.
The cap limits the amount a household can receive in state benefits, including tax credits and housing benefit, to no more than £23,000 per annum for those living in London and £20,000 for those living elsewhere in the UK.
But Thewliss accused the government of “punishing” lone parents with children, saying it risks “stunting the life chances of those children as they go through their life”.
“We are punishing people for the circumstances they are in”, she said.
A written question from SNP MP Marion Fellows has recently found that the DWP has already spent tens of thousands of taxpayers money in defending the policy at the High Court.
Responding to the question, Dinenage admitted: “Legal fees of defending the case in the High Court are £67,690.
“This figure includes VAT where payable – for example, on counsel’s fees – and disbursements but does not include costs attributable to time spent by Government advisory lawyers, as time spent by such advisory lawyers is not recorded in a manner that allows it to be attributable to individual court cases. DWP has also paid £125,000 (plus VAT) towards the claimants’ costs.”
And that bill is likely to rise substantially, unless the government reconsiders its intention to continue defending the cap in the Court of Appeal.
Dinenage said “The DWP’s legal costs for appealing the case in the Court of Appeal are estimated to be between £25,000 and £40,000. This includes our best estimate of external counsel fees.”