The Bedroom Tax: The Unkindest Cut of All?

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by Jim Grundy

On 1st April 2013, a little under 1,000 Ashfield District Council tenancies will be subject to the new ‘Under-Occupancy Charge’, more commonly known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’. It is difficult to imagine a worse policy, even from a Government that appears short of everything except bad ideas.

Any council or housing association household of working age with one or more ‘spare’ bedrooms and in receipt of Housing Benefit will receive a cut to that benefit of up to £20 per week.

The stated aim of the new tax on the poorest is to increase the supply of larger accommodation and to cut the Housing Benefit bill by moving people into smaller properties. Does that stand up to scrutiny?

In short, “no”.

But let us first consider the kind of work-shy benefit scroungers that are to be affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Firstly, let us think of a scenario where a family with a severely disabled child under the age of ten has, on medical advice, to have their own, specially adapted, bedroom. According to this new legislation, the young boy or girl would have to share with a sibling or the family would have to pay the penalty charge.

Then there’s the example of a middle-aged couple, who have to sleep in separate rooms because one of them suffers from pressure sores and whose room is full of medical equipment. Despite the medical necessity for that couple requiring two bedrooms, the legislation does not recognise that and they would be penalised.

Another example could see a discharged soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) whose wife has died and whose child is pondering whether to go to university for fear that the Bedroom Tax will leave their father unable to cope.

But current members of the armed forces are affected too. Current government defence policy places greater reliance upon part-time reserve forces. Yet an absence of 13 weeks – rather less than the average tour to Afghanistan – from a council or housing association tenancy would see the family of that member of the military subject to the charge too. They might be serving their country but that won’t protect them from the Bedroom Tax.

Not excluded from the charge either would be a disabled household who rely on regular stop-over visits by friends or family to help them continue to live independently. They, too, fall foul of the new legislation.

Others guilty of the crime of under-occupation will include those affected by domestic violence and families with a spare room offering to foster children, some of whom will have come from very troubled backgrounds. Nevertheless, those who are prepared to take them in, to offer protection to vulnerable children, are not excluded from the new tax.

Less emotively, let us consider the simple example of an individual with no family, who is not disabled, living in a two bedroom council property (and who obviously has no ambition to have a family of their own). If there is no alternative accommodation within the council stock they would be obliged to move into the private rented sector. Inevitably, renting from a private landlord would prove more expensive than from a local authority, so the aim of saving on the Housing Benefit bill would be completely compromised.

I started by saying that the Bedroom Tax will neither release larger accommodation nor will it save Housing Benefit. Moving people into the private rented sector will add costs, not save money, that much is obvious, but is there the supply of smaller accommodation within the council stock to move people around, even if there were no other considerations to be taken into account?

Again, the answer is clear and it is an overwhelming ‘no’.

With nearly 1,000 tenancies to be affected by the Bedroom Tax, within Ashfield there is no scope to transfer any more than 40-50 households each year into a home where they wouldn’t lose out to the Bedroom Tax.

It would take, therefore, around 20 years to place people into smaller homes, assuming no-one’s circumstances changed over the next couple of decades.

So the social consequences of the policy are dire. It penalises some of the most vulnerable people. It even punishes those serving their country in war zones.

But the crowning irony, the final insult and a further example, were one even needed, of the gross hypocrisy of the Coalition Government is the fact that Lord Freud, the minister leading on this policy, has 11 spare bedrooms of his own, including eight in his own country mansion.

So tax the chronically sick; tax the serving solder, but for heaven’s sake don’t tax a millionaire in his mansion.

Other posts by Jim Grundy:

Ungentlemenly Conduct: The 1881 Nottinghamshire Cricket Strike?

Plebgate: Andrew Mitchell and the Gift That Keeps on Giving

If… The Clegg Version (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

How can pay rise be unfair when mega-rich get tax cut?

The Unnatural Death of Affordable Housing

Planning to Blame Immigrants? Get Your Facts Straight & Get Rid of Your Prejudices, Nick Boles

Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear

“We Take Care of Our Own” or What Labour Needs to Remember if it Wants to Win.

Softly, Softly, into Slums: New Law permits Councils to turn Homeless away

Cut out Cuts – Leave the Eton Mess Behind