Bedroom tax disaster for disabled people

LAST SATURDAY there were demonstrations against the bedroom tax in London, Leeds and Cardiff to mark the first anniversary of the hated tax.

And one year after the “bedroom tax” — a cut in housing benefit to claimants who are deemed to have more bedrooms in their home than they need — was introduced the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has concluded that it is creating “financial hardship and distress” for disabled people.

The committee found that the cut has hit vulnerable people not intended as targets but the Government said its reforms were restoring fairness to the system.

Social housing tenants found to have one spare bedroom have had their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent. Those with two or more spare bedrooms have had reductions of 25 per cent. Housing benefit is means tested and calculated to leave tenants just able to afford to pay the remaining rent, so these cuts in their benefit inevitably take them to a level of rent they cannot afford.

The cuts are supposed to prompt tenants to seek a move to a smaller home, vacating bigger properties for the benefit of larger families.

But the cuts are affecting thousands of disabled people who have had their homes adapted to meet the needs of their disability

In a separate report prepared for the TUC-backed campaign False Economy, using figures available under the Freedom of Information Act, it was revealed that the number of households affected by the bedroom tax has fallen by just 15 per cent during the last year, with nearly six out of seven affected households unable to avoid a cut in housing benefit support.

In some areas the amount of housing benefit being paid as tenants were forced out of larger council homes into smaller but more expensive private accommodation. In other areas it had barely fallen.

The research suggests that the vast majority of tenants hit have been unable to respond to the cut in their housing budget by moving to a smaller home, earning their way out of housing benefit or taking in a lodger as the Government expected.

As rent arrears grow and the widely predicted shortage of vacant one-bedroom properties becomes more apparent, thousands of low-income households have had no choice but to try to absorb a significant cut in their income.

Ministers will claim that the figures could improve over four or five years — but by then many tenants will have been buried under a mountain of unpayable debts, says False Economy.

A False Economy spokesperson said: “The bedroom tax has failed on each of the government’s stated objectives — just as so many warned it would.

“But the bedroom tax was never about make making housing allocation fairer or cutting the welfare bill. It was about putting social housing further out of the reach of those who need it, and driving families into a debt spiral that traps them in squalid overpriced private tenancies and jobs that don’t pay.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The bedroom tax is one of the most spiteful and unfair measures introduced by this Government. It shows just how out of touch with ordinary people and the real world ministers are.

“Ministers seem not to know about the nationwide shortage of single bedroom social homes nor are they aware of any of the many valid reasons why tenants need more space than the Government says they do.

“And the bedroom tax hasn’t stopped the housing benefit bill from going up. This is because wages have stagnated for the working poor and rents have increased as the decades-long failure to build enough homes bites.”

Last Saturday’s demonstrations highlighted the misery that the tax has caused to over 600,000 families, increasing financial stress, debt and eviction of some of the most vulnerable within our communities.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite the union, said: “The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is obscene — it brought nothing, but hardship and suffering to the already vulnerable and should be scrapped immediately.

“Labour should call for an immediate vote in the House following the Lib Dems’ hypocritical, but welcome U-turn on a failed, sick policy and get this obscene tax repealed now.”