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Opinion: The harsh reality of the bedroom tax

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Opinion: The harsh reality of the bedroom tax

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: The harsh reality of the bedroom tax Opinion: The harsh reality of the bedroom tax

By David Orr, chief executive, National Housing Federation

I started blogging regularly about three years ago. I’ve just checked and in that time I have published 50 blogs on the Federation’s website and various blogs and articles in different journals. Of the 50, the subject that I have discussed most, with six different blogs, is the bedroom tax.

On a good day I like to think I can be quite eloquent and persuasive. I’ve reread the six blogs and I think they make good, strong, clear points, based on proper evidence, about how destructive this policy is. And of course I’m not the only one who has raised a voice against this economically incompetent, socially divisive, counter-productive and just plain nasty measure. Many commentators have made the same points even more forcefully and a raft of reports have confirmed with clear, hard evidence that the policy isn’t working.

The most recent evidence is an Ipsos MORI poll we commissioned which asks tenants the impact the measure has had on them. Depressingly, the story is the same as it always is. One in three households affected has cut back on food; one in four has cut back on heating. Arrears are much higher in this group than in those on benefits not affected by the bedroom tax. Nearly half have borrowed money to pay the rent. 89% are concerned about meeting their day to day living costs and seven in ten are anxious about eviction.

So we publish the evidence and tell the stories of the individuals affected. Groups of housing associations all over the country publish reports about the impact on their tenants. Increasingly, the courts are overturning individual decisions to charge the bedroom tax. The apologists for the measure have no strong evidence to support their case. Labour has promised to repeal it, the Lib Dem members have demanded that the party reconsiders its support and UKIP thinks it should be abandoned.

But it is still there and still making things ever more difficult for a whole raft of ordinary people just trying to get by. This is not a measure attacking workshy scroungers living in huge homes. It affects the growing number of people in low paid work who can’t afford the rent and have been forced to claim Housing Benefit. 80% of those affected didn’t even have a spare room until the government changed its own rules about what constitutes ‘spare’ without consultation.

One senior politician attempted to justify it to me by saying that it brings social tenants into line with the private sector. Not true. In the private sector the measure was only introduced for new claimants, who knew the rules. In the social sector it was imposed on everyone, even those who have no means of finding a smaller home.

So, let me have one more go at this. The bedroom tax is not making better use of the social housing stock. Indeed in many parts of the country it means that perfectly usable homes are lying empty. It is not saving money if you take account of the disruption it has caused, the increased costs to the health service and higher (yes, that’s right, higher) housing benefit bills as people move to smaller but more expensive homes in the private sector.

It is not putting the social sector in line with the private sector but is imposing a far greater burden on people who have no choice about where they live. It has pushed many tenants into arrears for the first time in their lives and has left thousands at risk of eviction.

It is not helping to deal with overcrowding and it does nothing to support the building of the new homes we so desperately need. It has left people having to make real, impossible choices over whether they pay the rent, or heat their homes, or have enough to eat. It is disruptive to stable family life. It has quite astonishingly led to people with disabilities having to move out of homes that have been specially adapted to meet their needs.

The evidence is crystal clear. This measure does not work. There is no rational way to amend it. It must be repealed, and the sooner the better. Just for once, in a time where anti politics sentiment is tangible, wouldn’t it be great if the government was to say “we got this one wrong”.

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