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Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

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Originally published for The Backbencher on 17/3/2013

 

Take Up Thy (Spare) Bed And Get Out!

 

When I first heard of the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ I imagined it to be something kinky (or perhaps it was wishful thinking), a silly joke on social media. The reality, however, was less amusing and far more sinister. The new rules, due to come into effect in April, will affect housing benefit, which is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week. This change will affect council tenants and those who rent from housing associations, who are housing benefit claimants. The government estimates that 655,000 households will have their benefit cut.

social housing

The ‘bedroom tax’ will penalise households in social housing deemed to have more bedrooms than they require. Under the government’s so-called “size criteria” (how do you decide what is the ‘right’ amount of space a person needs?) families will be assessed for the number of bedrooms they actually need.

The government says that it is a necessary policy to get the £23bn housing budget under control and that the savings to the taxpayer ‘will amount to £505m in 2012-13′, and ‘£540m in the year after’.

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That’s the theory anyway, but reality doesn’t quite work like that, as there is no way the local authorities will be able to move everyone around and put them in the ‘right’ properties. As Theo Paphitis rightly pointed out on Question Time this week, it’s just ‘theoretical economy’.

Ministers have pointed out that foster carers and families of armed services personnel will be exempt from controversial changes to housing benefit. Furthermore, anyone with severely disabled children is supposedly exempt from the spare room subsidy, yet Guardian’s Patrick Butler  highlighted the fact that government lawyers were still actively seeking to quash an appeal court ruling last May that would ensure exemptions for severely disabled children did not apply.

Katy McCauley, a volunteer at the CAB in Rochdale, believes the policy is “not thought through.” She said: “They’re forgetting that people on housing benefits are on a low income anyway.” She was among the many who came out to protest in Manchester city centre on Saturday in solidarity with the 60 or so towns and cities that had planned demonstrations against this policy.

The government has persuaded many people that all benefits recipients are scroungers and shirkers and so this discussion of the welfare budget always seems polarised. What some people don’t seem to understand is that some of the people who will be affected will have lived in their home for decades.

Take Janet Southgate, a 55-year-old disabled woman from Hyde who came to the demonstration in Manchester. She ‘under-occupies’ a three bedroom house in which she has lived for 27 years, a home where her children grew up. She cannot afford to move out and there are no bungalows available for at least two or three years in her area – to move out would cost her £1000, assuming she has somewhere to go.

“I’m stockpiling food, tins of soup, or I won’t be able to afford to eat,” she said. She will be left with £150 to live off each month, before what is spent on the gas and electricity bills. She adds: “The doctor said I’m suffering from trauma because of all this. I’ve done jobs you don’t want to know about to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m epileptic, disabled and trapped.”

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Andy Bentley, a 50-year-old ex-soldier from Halifax, said that some of his friends would be made homeless come April. A disabled friend of his ‘under-occupies’ his house because he can’t get upstairs, so he sleeps in the living room. What will he do?

When I suggested the possibility of living with his mother, he replied that she did not want him living with her, which begs the questions – what will happen to vulnerable people who cannot rely on family or friends to help them? More people now still live at home with their parents in the UK, but what about those whose parents do not want their children living at home any more?

Yes, housing benefit is a huge bill but that is because property prices and rents have been allowed to rise without control. It is clearly an ill-thought out policy or, as Andy from Halifax put it, “It’s lunacy.”

There are many more in this desperate position and although the government’s explanation suggests that there is an element of choice, that people are being asked nicely to decide whether to downsize or pay extra to have a bit more room, in practice there really aren’t many suitable smaller properties for people to move into, nor can those people afford to have their benefits reduced.

Is the theoretical half-a-billion pounds savings really worth it?

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Written by Iram Ramzan

March 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on msamba.

    agogo22

    March 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm


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