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Bedroom Tax Disaster

18th July 2014

Bedroom Tax Disaster

As widely predicted by its many critics the bedroom tax has proved to be a disaster.

In official-speak called ‘the removal of the spare room subsidy’, housing benefit has been brutally cut by £14-22 a week to those households deemed by the authorities to be living in ‘too big’ a dwelling. The aim is to force the families out and make them downsize. The fact that they may regard the place as their home is seen as neither here nor there.

The penalty is applied selectively. A cursory glance at Buckingham Palace shows it to have many spare bedrooms. Since the family that lives there (occasionally) does not receive public subsidy in the form of housing benefit, nobody is telling them to move out.

The effect of cuts of £14 to £22 to households already on the breadline is catastrophic. Families are faced with the choice of ‘heating or eating’. A report by the Department for Work and Pensions on the first year of the bedroom tax shows that most of the 523,000 tenants affected have just been unable to make do.
The tax is inflicting enormous hardship. 57% are cutting back on household essentials, 60% on food or heating and 80% of claimants told researchers they were finding it ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ difficult to meet the shortfalls.

As reported in the ‘Guardian’, one social landlord told researchers: “Our customers (tenants) are in severe hardship through this reduction in housing benefit and many are needing vouchers for food banks after making rent payments… Customers are distraught and telling us they cannot cope and we are dealing with regular threats of suicide.”

Even in its own terms the policy is not working. There are just not enough smaller homes for families to move to. Less than 5% have been able to downsize.  For instance in Newcastle there are just 50 smaller residences available for 7,000 families hit by the bedroom tax. And 41% of landlords report that they have three bedroom houses lying empty as a result.

People just can’t afford the bedroom tax. Only 40% have been able to pay in full. So far just 45 families have been evicted on account of the tax, but 35% of tenants have been issued with eviction warning letters. Mass evictions are a further threat waiting to happen.

Housing benefit was introduced after the abolition of rent controls. It is really a subsidy to landlords to pay for escalating rents, though tenants are at the sharp end if it is cut. Capitalism has never been able to provide affordable housing for everyone.

The burden of the bedroom tax and the threat of evictions need to be fought locally. The next Labour government must abolish the bedroom tax, and implement a mass programme of building affordable houses.

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