You may have heard about the ‘bedroom tax’. You may even think it’s a good idea.
The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition is pushing through legislation which will force people in council houses to move into smaller properties if they have spare rooms. There are people on council waiting lists who can’t get a property because single people and couples are still occupying three-and four-bed houses now that their children have left home. So, in principle, I think, everyone would agree with such a policy. But that’s before you look at the reality of this policy. And the reality is what I have been seeing in every one of my surgeries since this idea was first floated.
To start with, in North East Derbyshire, there are not enough single-bed houses or flats for the number of single people who need to be housed. And then there’s the principle of moving someone out of their home where they might have lived all their life, where they have children and grandchildren visiting or staying over a couple of nights a week, and moving them into a new place, away from friends, neighbours and support networks.
But the worst affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ are the most vulnerable, that is those people who have a disability or are caring for someone with a disability or terminal illness.
The Government has admitted that 420,000 of the 660,000 who will either be docked £14 a week to stay where they are or who will be forced to move, have a disability.
One woman who came to see me cares for her disabled adult son. She has a room which her daughter lives in. Her daughter is working and studying and leaves her children with her mother for most of the week for childcare. This woman is considered to be under-occupying and will have to move as she can’t afford to have her housing benefit docked.
Or there is the married couple who live in a two-bedroom house. She is caring for her terminally ill husband. They have to sleep in separate bedrooms because of the noise but they are affected by the ‘bedroom tax’. As ill as he is, they have to move.
I have been calling for people with a disability to be exempt from the bedroom tax in recognition of their additional needs and in recognition of the fact that that is what the state is for – to look after those people who are unable to care for themselves.
In response, the Government has said that it has put aside a pot of £25 million a year to help people with a disability who are affected by the bedroom tax. But that is nothing when you break it down into council areas. It works out at about £750 a year for 250 people per council area.
The Government has justified this by saying that it has to make savings on the housing bill, that it’s the cuts and austerity that is forcing them to do it.
But in Parliamentary Questions last week I asked the Minister in charge of Disabilities how much this move would cost and how much it would save. I was amazed that she couldn’t give me an answer.
The truth is, it will cost a fortune to implement these changes and it is a cost that will be picked up by local councils who, like ours in North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield and Bolsover, have fought tooth and nail against this cruel policy. And we will all continue to fight.