The demo heard from many speakers affected by the bedroom tax who are unable to pay. Julie from Ladywood spoke about how she was facing paying £30/week to keep the house she’s lived in for over 25 years. She has two spare rooms as a result of her children having grown up and left home, but there are no smaller properties for her to move to. She can’t pay the charge and doesn’t want to move away from her friends and community. She is far from alone in her situation – there are over 13,000 households in Birmingham affected by the bedroom tax, but the council has just 368 one or two bedroom properties for people to move to.
With thousands of people caught in the situation of being unable to pay and unable to move, the cruelty of the bedroom tax is being put into stark relief. We have heard a lot about those “spare” rooms that aren’t spare – the ones slept in by foster children (as a result of campaigning, foster parents can now keep one “spare” room, but woe betide those foster parents who take in siblings or multiple foster children, as any second or third room will still be counted as “spare” and charged for); the adapted rooms used by disabled people, the “spare” rooms that their partners, carers or siblings sleep in because the adaptations or disability mean that sharing a room is not possible or practical or the rooms kept by separated parents for their children to stay in when they are staying there. We haven’t heard so much about the people who are going to be forced to leave their communities, and what effect that will have on them personally and the community they leave behind.
In a report to Birmingham City Council last year, many charities warned of the disruption to community cohesion this policy and the benefit cap would cause. In the report, Castle Vale Community Regeneration Services said:
as households struggle to cover the costs of their rent this will lead to an increase in people moving out and in to the neighbourhood. The reasons behind these movements need to be managed carefully within the community as this may lead to ‘blame’ being attributed to certain local organisations, the city council or indeed those who are moving into the community– this may cause tensions due to those moving out and in to the neighbourhood
From top to bottom, the bedroom tax is a bad idea – it’s bad for the individuals concerned, it’s bad for the communities they leave behind and when evictions start happening it will be bad for the council’s finances, as they have legal requirements to rehouse anyone who is made homeless as a result of being unable to pay the tax – often in expensive emergency accommodation.
That is why it makes sense for the council to pledge to no evictions – it will be cheaper for them to take the loss of rental income than to go through the expense of evicting and rehousing council tenants. Making this pledge will also send signals to the social landlords like Midland Heart and Castle Vale who have spoken out about the effect of benefit cuts, that they should do the same, and stand alongside their tenants and communities in strong opposition to the bedroom tax.
Meanwhile we need to be building and organising eviction resistance networks, like the one being formed by Unite Community Union in London, which will be able to draw people out to physically prevent bailiffs from evicting those who are unable to pay this charge.
Join us in the coming weeks as we continue to build the campaign against the bedroom tax. Next weekend the Birmingham Benefits Justice Campaign will be leafleting in Ladywood, one of the most affected areas of Birmingham, meeting at 2pm by the Tesco at five ways roundabout, and more events are being planned over May.