UK High Court rules for caregivers in challenge to benefits cap

gavel with flag of the United Kingdom in the background
UK Court: Benefits Cap is Discriminatory

The UK High Court ruled November 26 that the UK government is discriminating against certain people with disabilities by failing to exempt payments made to their caregivers from its benefits cap.

“My clients have been hit by the benefit cap because they are disabled or they provide essential care to their disabled relatives,” solicitor Rebekah Carrier, who represented the plaintiffs, told the Guardian. “They are not skivers, they are strivers. They provide full-time care and save the state money.”

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron signed into law the Welfare Reform Act, which, among other things, imposed a £500 per week cap on households for government benefits.

At issue in the case is the extent that Carer Allowance, which is available for people engaged in caregiving activities 35 hours per week, is exempt from the benefits cap. According to the Huffington Post UK, Carer Allowance is exempt only where caregivers are providing for their spouse or child prior to age 18, meaning there is no exemption if they are providing for their parents, grandparents or adult children.

In 2013, two women, both of whom are caregivers for their grandmothers, filed a complaint against the Department for Work and Pensions.

As a preliminary matter, the Court stated that the government had a legitimate interest in imposing the benefits cap, namely its interests in protecting the country’s economic well-being, incentivizing work, and creating a reasonable limit on the total amount of available benefits.

However, the Court found that differentiating between caregivers for the purposes of the benefit cap not only fails to further these interests, but, in fact, constitutes disability discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“To describe a household where care was being provided for at least 35 hours a week as ‘workless’ was somewhat offensive,” Judge Collins wrote in the decision. “I believe reasonable people would recognise that to care for a seriously disabled person is difficult and burdensome and could properly be regarded as work.

“Equally, those who are prepared to make the sacrifice involved in undertaking such care would not be those who would normally be regarded as work shy and content to rely on benefits.”

The decision is the latest in a string of decisions challenging the welfare policies of David Cameron’s Conservative Party government. In March, the High Court upheld the benefits cap, but nonetheless said that it violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In June, the High Court ruled that the government violated UK law by failing to timely process Personal Independence Payments, the nation’s primary program for people unable to work due to their disabilities.