In a new monthly piece from journalist and radio reporter Kate Gibson, we stay up-to-date with what’s happening with the bedroom tax and how it is affecting people…
Call it what you like, the ‘bedroom tax’, the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ or the cuddly sounding ‘spare room subsidy’ – something facing 660,000 households in Britain – is punishing the poor.
Let’s begin at the beginning. The policy, which we’ll call the bedroom tax for ease, came into force on the 1st of April. Since then, anybody who lives in a council house or flat which is deemed to be too big for them will have to pay a chunk of their rent from their low income, whether that’s from other benefits or a paying job.
Conservative MPs suggested it would encourage single people or older adults, whose children had left the family home, to downsize to a smaller council house and ‘free up’ properties with more bedrooms for needy families – “not a bad idea” I hear you cry. On the surface, it seems like the bedroom tax was designed to avoid overcrowding but the policy has serious flaws.
The first of which is – some spare rooms aren’t SPARE at all.
I’m not arguing that it’s a basic human right to have a junk room. I’m talking about when a one-size-fits-all policy fails to provide for people with non-standard circumstances.
Jayson Carmichael, 50, is a full time carer for his wife, Charlotte, 40, who suffers from Spina Bifida. He used to work in a hotel but gave up his job to give Charlotte the help she needs around the clock.
The couple live in a modest two bedroom flat in Southport, Merseyside. It’s been their home for ten years. Charlotte sleeps on a special electric hospital mattress to ease painful pressure sores. As there’s no room for another bed in the same room, Jayson sleeps next door in the single bedroom.
Now, as they’re deemed to be under-occupying, Jayson is being forced to pay 14% of their weekly rent out of his minimal carer’s allowance. Losing £11.90 per week is a huge hardship for Jayson and Charlotte.
They were granted a judicial review in May but the judge has put off giving a verdict so far. We’re told to expect a judgment tomorrow (TUES).
Not exempting disabled adults who need a second bedroom either for their partner to sleep in or to store vital medical equipment smacks of double standards – as disabled children do not have to share with their siblings.
Also, non-resident single parents are being told they can’t keep a room for their children – no matter how often they visit. This has led to children of all ages and genders having to share a makeshift bed in a living room – even when it’s inappropriate. Surely does nothing to help families who have already suffered a relationship breakdown.
Secondly, even if a smaller property would be suitable – there are none to move in to!
In Greenwich, London there are 1353 people waiting for a one-bed. There is only currently one ready for renting. The other 1352 households will lose out on money whether they want to move or not. Many of them didn’t even get a say in where they were housed and were just given the property that they’re now being told is too big for them. It’s the same story all across the country
Adding insult to injury, if a suitable property DOES become available, it’s likely that a housing authority won’t let a tenant move if they’re in arrears on their rent. Meaning they’re not allowed to move out of the house that costs too much because they couldn’t physically pay for the house that cost too much.
If that isn’t a beautiful illustration of a poverty trap, I don’t know what is.
Third – Without meaning to be corny about this, it ISN’T ‘just a house’. It’s a home.
I’ve heard many bedroom tax supporters point out, quite rightly, that a council or local authority home doesn’t belong to the tenant.
The same could be argued of a private tenant who pays all of their rent themselves. It doesn’t mean it isn’t their home that they cherish.
A widow, Julia Jones, who fought against the bedroom tax, once summed it up beautifully. “Everybody deserves the right to feel safe in their own home,” she said.
Investment. Community. Stability.
By creating a culture where nobody can feel as if a council house is his or her home, the stock won’t be looked after. People won’t invest in decorating. They won’t maintain the building. Houses will fall into disrepair.
More worryingly, people won’t invest in their communities. If you expect to be moved on every time your circumstances change, why would you get to know your neighbours? Why would you want to put down long-term routes? Without meaning to sound melodramatic, the bedroom tax stands to literally ruin what little community spirit remains in Britain’s villages, towns and cities.
Crazily – All this and it doesn’t actually save any money like the Government said it would.
Next month, I’ll be taking part in an anti-bedroom mass sleep-out to remind the Government just what our streets could look like in the not-too-distant future if the bedroom tax isn’t scrapped.