Bedroom Tax protest

The hated Bedroom Tax is incompetent, inhumane and unjust. Adam Tomes provides the facts and explains why it must be scrapped

The approaching first anniversary of the hated Bedroom Tax is a reminder of the Coalition Government’s extreme callousness and incompetence. This policy has had a damaging social cost on the most vulnerable in society, whilst being devised and applied with incompetence by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The main stated aims of this policy are clear. The first objective is about dealing with the issue of under-occupancy in social housing at a time when there is a real problem with overcrowding.

The second main aim is to tackle the unaffordable housing budget, which is running at £23.6 bn per year.

It has cut the amount of benefit that people can get if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. The definition of ‘spare’ is wide: children are expected to share until they are 10, or 16 if they are the same gender, while only disabled people who need non-resident overnight care will be allowed to keep a bedroom for their carer.

The cost of the spare bedroom is a 14% benefit cut (£12 per week), or 25% (£22 per week) for two.

Incompetence #1- How much will it save?

In pushing the Bedroom Tax, the Coalition argued that it would save the country £480 million in the first year.

The University of York, in October, published a report that used the DWP’s own model and fed through the data from four of the largest Housing Associations. The research showed that the savings estimated by the Government were exaggerated and the costing model to be flawed.

The DWP had failed to accurately calculate the number of tenants who would downsize and the number who would move into the more expensive private sector. In fact it appears that the Bedroom Tax will save £160 million less than estimated.

The paucity of this saving simply does not match up to the human cost of this brutal policy.

Incompetence #2 – Incorrectly applied

The Bedroom Tax has been incorrectly applied to residents who have lived at the same address from before 1996.

In January this year, Iain Duncan Smith told MPs that between 3,000 and 5,000 residents would be hit by this error. Freedom of Information requests have been submitted to 346 local authorities and 140 have replied back and reported that 16,000 residents have been so far incorrectly hit by the Bedroom Tax.

If we extrapolate this number, it can be estimated that in fact rather than 5,000 affected residents, that there will be around 50,000 residents who have had the tax incorrectly applied.  The incompetence of this Government and the DWP is simply staggering and it is time it was held to account.

Inhumanity #1 – the social cost

The National Housing Federation has just published the results of an Ipsos-MORI survey that was commissioned to look at the impacts of the Bedroom Tax. The headline facts are hugely worrying and put into numbers the stories of hardship that we hear on the ground.

The survey reveals that 66% of the residents hit by the Bedroom Tax are in rent arrears with 38% of residents in debt as a direct result. With rent arrears building up, 15% of all households had received an eviction risk letter by October 2015. This figure is in fact likely to be much higher as this survey only applies to Housing Association tenants and not Local Authority tenants.

This means that it is not a policy to tackle under-occupancy but a policy that will create no occupancy and the tinning up of perfectly good housing in a time of housing shortage. It leads to families having to choose between paying their rent, their bills and eating and is it any wonder that the Trussell Trust reported a dramatic rise in the numbers of people turning to food banks.

The inhumanity of the project is further revealed by the fact that 63% of all households who have the Bedroom Tax imposed on them contain a disabled resident.

Inhumanity #2 – the failure to provide housing

There is little doubt that the housing benefit bill is large and that there is a problem of overcrowding. Shelter estimates that the number of overcrowded homes has doubled in a decade.

In some areas more than one in four households live in cramped conditions, while up to five million people are stuck on social housing waiting lists.

According to the government, the causes of all of this are the scroungers and skivers who are choosing not to stand on their own two feet and who are deliberately living in houses that are far bigger than they need. The evidence clearly contradicts this right wing political and media myth.

The National Housing Federation estimates, in 2011-2012, that there around 180,000 under occupying two bedroom homes with only 85,000 one bed homes becoming available. There is simply nowhere for the over occupying resident to go, except into the hands of the private landlord, which will increase the cost to the state.

At the same time, those living in cramped conditions or on waiting lists are not being denied their basic rights by greedy and devious over occupiers. They are being denied their basic rights by successive governments who have sold off social housing and failed to replace it.

Fair solutions to the housing crisis

There clearly are steps that could be taken to improve the situation. The first option would be to build a raft of green, fit-for-purpose social housing across the country. This would tackle the housing budget, deal with overcrowding and have the added benefit of kickstarting economic growth in a flatlining economy.

A second option, as Owen Jones argues would be to control rents in the private sector. Housing benefit has become a honeypot for private landlords, allowing them to charge extortionate rents in the knowledge that the taxpayer will pay the price.

The Bedroom Tax needs to be scrapped as it effectively has been in Scotland recently. The policy is hateful, incoherent and incompetent. Its removal would be a victory for the vulnerable in our society and a defeat for the political and media elites who preach and practise injustice.