Bedroom tax causing ‘severe hardship’ for vulnerable people

Published on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:18
Written by Daniel Mason

The government's removal of the spare room subsidy from working age tenants in social housing - dubbed the bedroom tax by critics - has left vulnerable people suffering severe financial hardship and distress, MPs have warned.

In a report published today, the House of Commons work and pensions committee said those who were not the intended targets of the reforms, such as disabled people, were also less able to change their circumstances in response.

The change was designed by the government to tackle the problem of people living in bigger homes that they need at the expense of taxpayers, by cutting tenants' housing benefit and encouraging them to move into smaller accommodation.

But Dame Anne Begg, the chair of the committee, said 60-70% of the households in England affected by the change contained somebody with a disability. "Vulnerable groups, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result," she said.

"The government's reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary housing payments, which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants.

"They are temporary, no permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules."

The analysis comes amid reports that the president of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, will also criticise the so-called bedroom tax in a speech today. It causes "huge social problems and distorts the market", he is expected to tell the Centre for Social Justice, adding: "We as a party cannot support this."

But Labour's shadow welfare reform minister, Chris Bryant, said the Lib Dems had "had chance after chance to vote against the unfair bedroom tax, but they voted it in and voted to keep it ever since. Tim Farron must think the British people have no memory.

"The Lib Dems could have joined the Labour party and voted the bedroom tax down, but they backed their Tory pals all the way. This shameless and hypocritical attempt to dodge responsibility for their record won't fool anyone."

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, added in response to the committee report: "Half a million people have been hit by the bedroom tax and the government's own figures say that two thirds of those affected are disabled.

"It's completely unfair that so many are charged for the space they use to store essential medical equipment such as dialysis machines."

For the government, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, quoted by the BBC, said: "Our reforms are necessary to restore fairness to the system and make a better use of social housing. Unreformed, the housing benefit bill would have grown to £26bn in 2013-14.

"We have given councils £345m since reforms came in last year to support vulnerable groups, especially disabled people."

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