It has spawned court appeals from disabled people and prompted human rights concerns from the UN. Labour has promised to reform it, 59 per cent of the public want it scrapped and the Liberal Democrats are growing increasingly uncomfortable with it. The infamous ‘bedroom tax’ – which came into force in April will see 660,000 people in social housing facing average benefit cuts of £14 per week – is one of the most controversial and unpopular pieces of legislation introduced by the Conservative-led coalition. And that’s saying something – with punitive legal aid reforms, NHS privatisation, an embarrassing immigration policy and distasteful changes to the education system among those vying for the top spot in the ‘most-hated-legislation’ category.
Type the term ‘bedroom tax’ into a search engine and the results range from first person accounts of disabled people facing eviction, to bereaved pensioners set to lose their home because they can’t afford to pay the rent. Funnily enough, there is nothing from the government to be seen. This is because out-of-touch politicians are attempting to cloud the matter by continuing to refer to it as the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ or an ‘under-occupancy measure’. But as Moss & Co housing solicitor Narinder Moss, who recently helped a widow with health problems avoid eviction as a result of the tax says in her case report what the tax is called is not important its the wrong it does that matters. It’s clear that the tax punishes the most vulnerable in society – the poor, the sick, the bereaved, the disabled. Whether you are recently separated parents sharing the care of your children, using the space to recover from an illness or operation, or a disabled person in an adapted home, if you are deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom you will lose out. With two-thirds of the households affected inhabited by disabled people, some 420,000 people already facing hardship will be left to find extra money just to keep their home. And for what? Why pile more stress and instability on these people when there are simply not enough smaller properties to enable them to downsize?
The government presents it as a choice (suggesting tenants could move to a smaller property if they can’t afford a spare bedroom), but figures show that the poor housing stock means there is nowhere for them to go. Local authorities statistics show that there are not enough smaller homes for up to 96 per cent of those facing benefit cuts. In England, for example, there are 180,000 social tenants deemed to be “under-occupying” their homes, yet there are just 85,000 one-bedroom properties available.
The timing of the bedroom tax is a testament to the ConDem government’s sterling efforts to take from the poor to give to the rich – it was imposed at the same time that 13,000 millionaires received a tax cut worth an average of £100,000. Indeed, the tax, along with a raft of changes to council tax and swingeing benefits reforms, seems designed to push the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society to the food banks and into the hands of loan sharks. Still, the money to fund lucrative benefits for a handful of privileged multimillionaires has to come from somewhere.
Martha Moss has recently returned to the UK from Brussels, where she was deputy editor of the EU-affairs publication, the Parliament Magazine. She will be writing a blog focusing on legal news of general importance in her own inimitable style.