Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK.
High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.
Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating.
Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two.
Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government, until the situation you find yourself in is so bleak and awful that you can hardly face another day.
The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically.
In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery.
It becomes out of the question to invite friends round for dinner or to play. Invitations to other children’s houses are declined, because it’s embarrassing not to be able to return the courtesy. Holidays are out of the question. School performance falters and declines.
In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50 per cent of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.
If this sounds Victorian to you, that’s because it is. Despite the Conservative Party’s claims that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto would “take Britain back to the 1970s”, it’s abundantly clear that we’re currently mired in the 1800s. The seventies seem progressive in comparison, and Corbyn has consistently called for the scrapping of the benefits cap.
Today’s ruling is welcome, but Tory ministers, far from pleading mea culpa and consigning this cruel policy to the rubbish heap, are reportedly preparing to appeal the High Court’s decision, calling it “disappointing”.
This Government is so flagrantly uncaring about the wellbeing of its citizens that it hears the testimony of those lone parents living in poverty, turning to food banks, suffering due to the Tory benefits cap, and decides “no that was a pretty good policy, let’s appeal to keep it”.
There is no progress in austerity. It brings nothing good, only pain and degradation. It is a sustained attack on the most vulnerable families in Britain, punishing the poor by inflicting further poverty and humiliation on them.
The Conservative Government is a shambles, lacking leadership, floundering towards a deal with a bigoted party of climate change deniers, and yet cracking on with their agenda of fiscal absurdity and rampant social cruelty. The ruling on the benefits cap should only be the beginning. They have twisted and gouged at this country for long enough. They have to go.