Skip to main content

This medieval, cruel and unfair 'bedroom tax' will push families deeper into poverty.

From next month all working age tenants renting from a local authority, housing association or other registered social landlord will receive Housing Benefit based on what the government calls "the need of their household". It sounds libertarian and just: to each according to his need. If only they had also adopted the other half of the balance: from each according to their ability. But the 'bedroom tax', as it has been called, is by its nature a medieval piece of legislation. Its aim is primarily to cut the costs of housing benefits, but also to encourage tenants to move out of their homes. It isn't 'giving according to need', it is taking away from the poorest. It isn't an incentive, but a penalty, and that is why it is unjust. It assumes 'need' can be determined solely by considering numbers of rooms and numbers of people. If only it was that simple.

The 'bedroom tax' means those tenants whose accommodation is 'larger than they need' may lose part of their Housing Benefit. Those with one extra bedroom will have a 14 per cent reduction applied to their eligible rent and those with two or more extra bedrooms will have a 25 per cent reduction applied. And all this at a time when household budgets are being squeezed from all directions.

 It is the worst kind of social engineering to force people out of their family homes. David Cameron famously described society as being 'broken'.  In the wake of rioting and looting in the streets in 2011, he put fixing what he called 'broken Britain'  at the top of his agenda. He is also on record as wanting to put family life on the political agenda, promoting the importance of good parenting. All very commendable. But the government's 'bedroom tax' is  at odds with these ambitions. At best it demonstrates a very poor understanding of how families work, and no recognition of the impact of such policies on communities.

Of course there is a shortage of houses and there is also an injustice when families cannot be properly housed. But there is a world of difference between a financial incentive and a financial penalty. Financial incentives may be an appropriate way to encourage people to 'downsize' in the social housing sector, but financial penalties create the potential for a different kind of injustice; forcing people deeper into poverty, because they cannot readily move.

A family who have grown up in a neighbourhood, made friends, established mutual support in caring for children are being encouraged to move, not by choice and opportunity, but because they have one room too many. Yet the DWP in their assessment of the likely effects of the change acknowledge no social impact, no potential impact on health and well-being or any potential for injustice. In their impact assessment they simply write against these assessments the word 'none'. And yet clearly there will be impacts in all these areas, and they know this to be so. Where they have been assessed, the DWP have ignored the findings.

One assessment was of the likely impact of the change on a community of 452 families.  Over two thirds of the households in the study had a household income (excluding housing benefit) of less than £150 per week.  Forty-two percent report struggling to manage financially to some extent and 41% say they regularly run out of money before the end of the week/month. The main reason for for having spare rooms is children leaving home but other factors such as bereavement and separation are significant. Needs often reflect complex family relationships rather than simplistic assumptions about need based on bedrooms. The vast majority (82%) thought their accommodation was 'about right' for their needs. Only a minority would consider moving. Many households regularly have relatives stay overnight, shift working alters sleeping arrangements. More than a third were likely to move into arrears as a result of the change in housing benefit.


The DWP are selling the 'bedroom tax' on the injustice of the current distribution of housing and housing shortages. But the primary aim is to reduce housing benefit costs. Freeing up accommodation according to 'need' is secondary and from the study done is unlikely to be effective. Indeed as the DWP say in their impact assessment if "all existing social sector tenants wished to move to accommodation of an appropriate size, there would be a mismatch between available accommodation and the needs of tenants." In other words this is an ill-thought out policy that won't meet its promise, but will meanwhile cause anxiety, suffering and injustice and push families deeper into poverty. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services.

It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared.

Utilitarian ethics considers the balan…

Keir Starmer has a lot to offer

The Labour Party is in the process of making a decision that will decide whether it can recover from the defeat in 2019 General Election.  All the candidates have much to offer and are making their case well.

No doubt for some the decision will be difficult.  Others may well have made up their minds on the simple binary of Left-wing-Right-wing.

The choice should be whoever is best placed to pull the party together.  Someone who can form a front bench of all talents and across the spectrum in the party.

That is what Harold Wilson did in the 1960s.  His government included Roy Jenkins on the right and Barbar Castle on the left; it included Crossman and Crossland, and Tony Benn with Jim Callaghan.  It presented a formidable team.

Keir Starmer brings to the top table a formidable career outside politics, having been a human rights lawyer and then Director of Public Prosecutions.   He is a man of integrity and commitment who believes in a fairer society where opportunities are more widel…

No evidence for vaccine link with autism

Public health bodies are worried that an alarming drop in childhood vaccinations is leading to a resurgence of diseases in childhood that we had all but eradicated.  Misinformation and scare stories about the harmful effects of vaccines abound on the internet and in social media.  Where they are based on 'science', it is highly selective, and often reliance is placed on falsehoods. 
Conspiracy theories also abound - cover-ups, deception, lies. As a result, too many parents are shunning vaccinations for their children.  So, what does the published, peer-reviewed literature tell us about vaccincations? Are they safe and effective, or are there long term harmful effects? 
A new report now provides some of the answers.

New evidence published in the Cochrane Library today finds MMR, MMRV, and MMR+V vaccines are effective and that they are not associated with increased risk of autism.

Measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (also known as chickenpox) are infectious diseases caused by …