Bedroom tax in disarray

by Daphne Liddle

IAN DUNCAN Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has retreated a few steps on the imposition of the now notorious “bedroom tax” after being challenged in the courts.

The “tax” is a cut in housing benefit to all claimants, whether they are tenants in the public or private sector, if they are deemed by the local authority to have more bedrooms than they absolutely need.

The tax is due to come into force at the beginning of April and would have impacted particularly harshly on people with disabilities where they cannot share a bedroom with their partner, or, if they are children, they cannot share with siblings.

The bedroom tax would have forced people in these circumstances to either move to a home with fewer bedrooms — in most cases giving up bedrooms and other household changes that had been adapted specially for the needs of the disabled person — or face a sharp rise in the rent they are expected to pay.

And it would have made life almost impossible for parents who foster and keep a bedroom for a foster child.

Smith told the Department of Work and Pensions last Tuesday to issue new guidelines to local authorities. From now on “severely disabled” children will not be expected to share their rooms with siblings — though it is up to the local authorities to judge what counts as severely disabled.

Foster carers will now be able to have bedrooms to accommodate their foster children without penalty. And families who have a son or daughter serving in the armed forces will be able to keep a bedroom for them to use when on leave — if they have nowhere else to go.

Smith said there would also be discretionary payments available in special cases, for example for people with disabilities.

This still leaves many thousands of hard up tenants, very few of whom have any chance of moving to a smaller property, facing a very big hike in their rent. Some will be unable to pay and could lose their homes.

The whole concept of the bedroom tax — referred to by the Tories as a spare bedroom subsidy — was very poorly thought out. It was meant to be punitive and part of the Government and right-wing media’s propaganda onslaught to portray all benefit claimants as “scroungers”.

It was an outrageous effort to portray people on low incomes and have to claim housing benefit as somehow subsidised by other tax payers.

Most housing benefit claimants are wage earners but when a full-time wage cannot cover subsistence and the rent of family accommodation then wages are much too low or rents are much too high — or both.

Most tenants, even those who get some of their rent paid by housing benefit, are nevertheless paying far above what it costs their landlords to provide the home.

But rents are set by market values where there is a desperate shortage of housing — which is manipulated by the Government to provide maximum profit opportunities for profiteering landlords, who are the real beneficiaries of housing benefit and the real scroungers.

Smith made the concessions after months of intense campaigning, especially by disabled people and their supporters.

It also follows a court case, Gorry versus DWP, which rules that the size criteria used to determine housing benefit discriminated unlawfully against disabled children who cannot share a room because of their disability.

The DWP was about to appeal to the Supreme Court against this decision but, during preparations for the hearing set for May this year, decided to drop the appeal.

There were two other similar cases on their way through the courts. Perhaps the adverse publicity, showing the spiteful tax up in all its cruelty, was eventually too much for Smith, especially in view of the failure of Labour’s bid to pass a “mansion tax” — at a very moderate rate — on homes worth more than £2 million.

The mansion tax had been proposed by the Liberal Democrats but they failed to support it in order not to fall out with their millionaire Tory coalition partners.

The stark difference in the way this Government treats the very rich and the poor could not be more blatant for everyone to see. The ruling class is truly waging a bitter and cruel war against the working class.

Smith has made just a few concessions but the whole tax must go. His small retreat must encourage us to increase our campaigning to get rid of the tax and the Tories with all their cruel austerity cuts, along with their miserable Liberal Democrat accomplices.