Guardian: Bedroom tax has failed on every count

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Mar 28 13:40:48 GMT 2014

The bedroom tax has failed on every count
We now know the policy is barely helping 
overcrowding and the savings are far less than the government hoped
Butler, social policy editor - 
<>, Friday 28 March 2014 11.26 GMT
The costs of dealing with the debt, eviction and 
misery caused by the bedroom tax may mean savings 
are minimal. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
That just a tiny fraction – 6% – of people 
affected by the 
tax have moved to a smaller home, 
<>as a BBC 
investigation has revealed, will come as no 
surprise to anyone living or working in social 
The policy had two aims: to save £500m on the 
bill, and to solve the problem of overcrowding by 
freeing up "under-occupied" social properties for 
families on the housing waiting list.
There is increasing evidence that the bedroom tax 
has failed on both counts. For a start, that 
projected saving had already been downgraded to 
£390m, and the government on Friday suggested it would be £360m.
And there is evidence that the costs of dealing 
with the debt, eviction and widespread misery 
caused by the bedroom tax may mean cash savings are minimal.
While most housing experts agree with the 
principle that social housing should be better 
allocated – so that, for example, an older couple 
living in a four-bedroom property whose children 
have grown up and moved away ought to move on to 
somewhere smaller to make way for a young family 
– there is widespread consensus in housing and 
local government that the bedroom tax does little to facilitate that.
The government is insisting it is "doing the 
right thing" by pressing ahead with the bedroom 
tax – sometimes known as the abolition of the 
spare-room subsidy. But experts say it is 
unnecessarily punitive, badly planned and will cost more than it saves.
The bedroom tax affects about 500,000 working 
people in social homes in Britain who are in 
receipt of 
benefit and deemed to have more bedrooms than they need.
Affected tenants face deductions from their 
housing benefit payment, on average, of £14 for 
one spare room and £22 for two; in effect they 
have to meet the shortfall from their own pocket.
Housing associations report that many tenants 
wish to downsize but no smaller homes are 
available. In England alone there are 180,000 
tenants under-occupying two-bedroom homes, but 
only 85,000 smaller homes available. The scarcity 
of smaller accommodation to move to is especially striking in rural areas.
Although the demographic most likely to have 
spare rooms is pensioners, the government has 
exempted this group from the bedroom tax.
Two-thirds of those affected are disabled, and 
many have specially adapted houses. If and when 
they move, the taxpayer may be forced to meet the 
costs of re-adapting the new property.
The government said on Friday morning that the 
bedroom tax was "not a failure" because even if 
6% of tenants downsized that still amounted to 30,000 people.
But to put that in a local context, in the London 
borough of Camden, which has more than 1,000 
overcrowded households on its waiting list, the 
bedroom tax had succeeded (as of January) in 
moving on just 4%, or 84 of the 1,587 tenants 
affected by bedroom tax, and some of those may have moved anyway.
there are practically no overcrowded families 
waiting to be rehoused. The bedroom tax is 
estimated to "save" £3.2m in the housing benefit 
in the city each year. Yet the city council 
estimates that it spends more than £2m providing 
help and support to affected households, while 
the government is providing nearly £700,000 a 
year in temporary financial support to tenants.
Newcastle city council says that a year ago it 
boasted its lowest ever rate of homelessness. 
Directly as a result of the bedroom tax, it says, 
139 families now face eviction.
It is not clear from the BBC report how many of 
those who moved went to smaller social homes. 
Those who moved into private rented accommodation 
are likely to be paying higher rent – and so 
adding to the housing benefit bill.
What is clear is that any savings that do arise 
will be met by some of the poorest and most 
vulnerable members of society. Rental arrears are 
up among social tenants as a result of the 
bedroom tax and other benefit cuts, with 
of them going into the red for the first time. 
Personal debt is growing, as is food and fuel poverty.
Set aside the cynical spreadsheet calculations of 
ministers for a moment. What food banks, advice 
agencies and housing professionals – people who 
deal day in day out with the consequences of 
reform – are in agreement on is that the bedroom 
tax is a turbo-generator of avoidable stress and human misery.

Poor families hit by welfare reforms 'running up £52 of debt every week'
Research finds average debt of low income 
households affected by benefits changes is almost 
£3,000 – up 29% since October
Butler, social policy editor - 
Wednesday 26 March 2014 10.59 GMT
Almost half of the participants in the survey 
report that they have no money left to live on 
each week once rent, food and bills are paid for. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
Low income families hit by 
reforms are running up personal debt at the rate 
of £52 a week to cope with the rising cost of 
living, with many saying they have no idea if 
they will be able to pay it back, according to 
the latest instalment of a poverty research project.
The project found that the average household debt 
stood at just under £3,000, up by 29% since 
October, equivalent to £670. Families were 
typically spending £34 a week repaying debts, 
from an average income among those surveyed of £176 a week.
The poorest families are also spending nearly 
four times the national average on heating and 
fuel – equivalent to a fifth of their income – 
while nearly a third of households spend less than £40 a week on food.
Almost half of the participants in the survey, 
all of whom have been affected by welfare reforms 
such as the 
tax, report that they have no money left to live 
on each week once rent, food and bills are paid for.
The findings emerged in the third of six planned 
reports by a group of 
which are tracking how families living in social 
housing in the north-west of England are coping 
with cuts to their income as a result of welfare 
changes and recession. The 
Life Reform project examines in detail the 
finances, views and behaviours of a group of up to 100 households.
Andy Williams, director of neighbourhood services 
at Liverpool Housing Trust and chair of the Real 
Life Reform steering group, said: "Householders 
are falling into more debt, including some taking 
money from loan sharks, and it's a real concern 
that people are having to borrow to cope with the cost of everyday living.
"In our first report in September, people said 
they'd resist falling further into debt, yet just 
six months later this picture has emerged.
"Nearly eight out of 10 people in the study owe 
money. With an underlying average debt of £2,943, 
some may never pay this off given that they have, 
on average, as little as £3 left at the end of each day for food."
The survey found that the number of households in 
debt was up four percentage points 
the autumn. Over half of families said they did 
not know how long it would take them to repay the 
debt or that they would never be able to repay 
it. Nearly one in seven households had debts that 
would take more than four years to pay back.
One participant told the project: "I have just 
taken out a new loan from a loan shark for 
Christmas. It will never go down but it just about keeps my head above water."
The report said that poorer families were 
increasingly reliant on debt to make ends meet. 
"The consequences of weekly repayments, which 
have more than doubled since the start of this 
study, alongside increasing costs in all areas, 
is really placing financial strain and hardship on our households."
Household food spending by Real Life Reform 
participants, which had dipped to an average 
£2.10 a day in October rose to £3.08 in January, 
an increase attributed to bigger-than-usual 
grocery shopping bills over the Christmas holidays.
Fuel spending had gone up by 8% since the last 
survey was carried out in October while household 
fuel bills had risen by an additional £7 a week 
since the summer. Participants were spending an 
average of £141 a month on energy, compared with 
the UK average of £106, in part because many were 
on expensive payments meters charging 27p per 
kilowatt hour compared to 17p for those not on meters.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson 
said the government was committed to ensuring a 
strong welfare safety net was in place for those 
in need: "The truth is that we're spending £94bn 
a year on working age 
the welfare system supports millions of people 
who are on low incomes or unemployed so they can meet their basic needs.
"Our reforms will improve the lives of some of 
the poorest families in our communities by 
promoting work and helping people to lift themselves out of poverty."

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