High court finds that two claimants caring for relatives for upwards of 35 hours a week were effectively in work and should be exempt from cap
Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare secretary. Photograph: David Gadd/Sportsphoto/Allstar
The welfare secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, unlawfully discriminated against disabled people by failing to exempt their carers from the benefit cap, a high court judge has ruled.
Mr Justice Collins said the government’s decision to apply the cap to full-time carers for adult relatives had created serious financial hardship for them, forced many to give up caring for loved ones, and loaded extra costs on to the NHS and care services.
The benefit cap, which limits working-age unemployed people to £500 a week in benefits, was introduced by the government on the basis that it sent a strong message to so-called workless families that they had to try harder to get a job.
The court ruled that the two carers who brought the case – and who were caring for upwards of 35 hours a week – were effectively in work even though they were in receipt of benefits, and therefore should be exempt from the cap.
Collins said: “To describe a household where care was being provided for at least 35 hours a week as ‘workless’ was somewhat offensive. To care for a seriously disabled person is difficult and burdensome and could properly be regarded as work.” The court ruled that the government had breached article 14 of the European convention on human rights.
Laywers acting for the secretary of state had argued that unpaid carers should be treated as unemployed people who should have to make the same choices as anyone else about whether to work or cut their living costs. But Collins said those providing full-time care could not be in full-time work unless they gave up or cut back significantly on their caring responsibilities.
Unpaid carers made “a huge contribution to society” and saved the taxpayer the equivalent of £119bn a year, he said. Were carers forced to give up their role, taxpayer-funded services would have to spend huge amounts providing the care instead.