Court ruling shows government disregard for families – CPAG

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Mothers Day protest outside Downing Street in April
Mothers Day protest outside Downing Street in April

The High Court of Justice on Thursday passed down judgment in favour of the government in a Judicial Review brought by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The review concerned two specific cuts to housing benefit that came into force this April:

• Restriction of maximum household size to four bedrooms.

• Caps on the amount of Housing Benefit a household can receive.

Child Poverty Action Group’s case in support of disadvantaged families against the government was:

• The changes are contrary to the fundamental purpose of the housing benefit scheme, which was originally intended to be a national scheme to prevent homelessness.

• The government has failed to have due regard to the general equality duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 because ethnic minorities and lone parents will be disproportionately hit by the two cuts being challenged.

The Chief Executive of Child Poverty, Alison Garnham, said on Thursday: ‘We are greatly disappointed at today’s judgment.

‘Minority ethnic and lone parent families are already at higher risks of child poverty, and the cuts to housing benefit that we challenged will make this situation even worse, driving people out of their homes and disrupting children’s education.

‘The bad news for poor families is piling up this week, following the stark warning from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that hundreds of thousands more children will fall into poverty because of the government’s welfare reforms.

‘We will now be studying the decision before deciding on our next steps.

‘We will continue opposing the cuts and campaigning for fairness and justice for the families who are bearing the brunt of a financial crisis that they were not responsible for.’

CPAG noted: ‘Evidence was produced to show that around 9,000 London households will have to leave their homes as a result of the caps, and that about 4,600 will be unable to find anywhere else to live “locally”.

‘This could mean upwards of 20,000 children having to move, 14,000 out of their local area, resulting in disruption to education, health and social services.

‘The Social Security Advisory Committee advised the government not to proceed with the changes, arguing that the risks outweighed any financial savings.

‘We believe this case shows the government’s disregard for the likely impacts of its policies on families and children, and for the most disadvantaged groups in our society.’

Meanwhile, public sector union Unison has warned councils that the verdict of a judicial review into Brent libraries, heard at the High Court today, should not be taken as a ‘green light’ to close services.

Instead, the union said it should serve as a warning to authorities that community groups must be consulted on change.

The court dismissed campaigners’ call to save six libraries and found in favour of Brent Council.

The council plan to close the libraries at Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston, and Tokyngton – six out of twelve libraries in the Borough.

Campaigners argued that the council had ignored alternatives to closures, failed to take into account community needs and the equalities impact of the halving of library services on the population.

They also claimed the council were acting against the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which requires a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’ to be provided.

Unison Head of Local Government, Heather Wakefield, said: ‘This case should serve as a stark warning to authorities looking to make changes to ensure they consult staff and local communities.

‘Community groups are being held to ransom by government plans, to force them to take over their libraries or lose them.

‘This will create a postcode lottery, with some communities going without libraries altogether, if groups fail to rise to the challenge.

‘The government must act to stop local authorities rushing through changes to services with no consultation.

‘Unison will continue to fight to protect library services from savage cuts, as community campaigns continue across the country.

‘An investment in libraries is an investment in the future generation.’

• Construction union UCATT has warmly welcomed Wednesday’s decision by the UK Supreme Court to reject a case brought by the insurance industry to block an Act of the Scottish Parliament, which restores compensation for asbestos victims.

In 2009 the Scottish Parliament passed the Damages Act, which restored compensation to victims of pleural plaques, a scarring of the lungs caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

The Damages Act overturned a decision of the Law Lords in 2007, that pleural plaques victims should no longer be compensated.

George Guy, Acting General Secretary of UCATT, said of Wednesday’s ruling: ‘This is excellent news as it shows that despite their huge financial resources the insurance industry do not have a free hand in the courts.

‘It also underlines just how outrageous their actions have been, as for over two years they have deliberately blocked pleural plaques victims in Scotland from receiving compensation.’

UCATT added: ‘Although the decision is good news for Scottish pleural plaques victims it will create a postcode lottery, as victims in England and Wales will not receive compensation as the government has refused to restore compensation.

‘The Executive in Northern Ireland are also committed to restoring compensation to pleural plaques victims.’

Guy stressed: ‘This needs to be the first step in winning justice for all asbestos victims regardless of where they live.

‘Every year thousands of people discover that their health has been damaged by asbestos and many sadly die.

‘These deaths and injuries were entirely preventable; companies knew that asbestos was lethal.

‘Everyone whose health has been damaged by asbestos must receive compensation.’

Harry Frew, Regional Secretary for UCATT Scotland, said: ‘This is an important decision as it will help to ensure justice for pleural plaques victims in Scotland.’

Welcoming the Supreme Court ruling on pleural plaques, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham said: ‘This is a vindication of the heroic battle by the victims of pleural plaques for fair compensation as well as the work undertaken by MSPs of more than one political party to legislate for justice.

‘The skill and expertise of Thompsons Solicitors has also been central to this victory.

‘The insurance companies involved have now stretched and abused the boundaries of due diligence in throwing their resources at an increasingly desperate fight to deny responsibility and it is now time for them to shut up and pay up.’