• In the case of R (JS) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2015] UKSC 16, it was found that where welfare is concerned, the court should not intervene unless a scheme is significantly lacking reasonable foundations.

Facts of the Case

  • There was a cap on the entitlement to welfare benefits introduced by The Benefit Cap (Housing Benefit) Regulations 2012 which was justified by economic and social policy.
  • Further to the justifications, the scheme was proposed to motivate people to work, to experience a reduction in public spending, to reduce the public funding of families that do not engage in paid work.
  • The most heavily impacted group of people were single parent households.
  • Claims for judicial review were brought against the decision by a group of single mothers who argued that, since single parents were usually women, the scheme was discriminatory and as such was in breach of Article 14 and P1A1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.


  • Could the cap on the benefits be justified and was there a violation of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Held by the Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and found that the cap could be justified and was not in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Reed

  • His Lordship recognised the efforts placed prior to enacting the cap, which involved careful assessment of both social and economic policy. As such, the decision could not be seen as unjust given the relevant assessment exercised.
  • “…the question of proportionality involves controversial issues of social and economic policy, with major implications for public expenditure. The determination of those issues is pre-eminently the function of democratically elected institutions. It is therefore necessary for the court to give due weight to the considered assessment made by those institutions. Unless manifestly without reasonable foundation, their assessment should be respected.” [93]

Baroness Hale (dissenting)

  • Baroness Hale disagreed with the majority and found that the cap was indeed discriminatory and impacted women the most. She goes on to provide examples of how single parent households are unfairly impacted at a greater degree compared to a couple.
  • “Therefore, even in the area of welfare benefits, where the court would normally defer to the considered decision of the legislature, if that decision results in unjustified discrimination, then it is the duty of the courts to say so. In many cases, the result will be to leave it to the legislature to decide how the matter is to be put right.” [160]
  • “The cap does not apply at all where the claimant is, or the claimant and her partner are jointly, entitled to working tax credit (regulation 75E(1), (2)). This effectively exempts most working households from the cap; the rules are complicated, but a lone parent responsible for a child would qualify for working tax credit if she worked at least 16 hours a week, while a couple responsible for a child would qualify if they worked a total of 24 hours a week, as long as one of them worked for at least 16 hours a week…” [164]