In the event that a constituent was faced with bailiffs on their doorstep as a result of bedroom tax arrears the three councillors said that they would hope to resolve any eviction early to prevent the stress to the family but if action was needed they would support the residents within their ward.
At a passionate and at points heated meeting at St Barnabas church, Erdington residents vented their anger at the unfairness of the Bedroom Tax but also at the Labour Party’s seeming inaction towards those affected.
But the councillors insisted that they were in total opposition to the tax which has so far led to the tragic suicide of Stephanie Bottrill and would do everything in their power to stop constituents being charged and evicted.
Councillor Holbrook explained that, although she believed there were legal difficulties preventing the city council from adopting a ‘no evictions’ policy for tenants affected by the bedroom tax, Councillor Jones has put forward a motion to the council calling for no evictions. The Labour group have also said they will look at reclassifying houses to have fewer bedrooms so that residents will not be affected.
This comes against a backdrop of a huge rise in arrears, houses being left empty and the prospect of costs to councils vastly outweighing any savings made by the DWP. In Birmingham, arrears have jumped up by 91% amongst the group of people affected by the Bedroom Tax, unsurprising as benefits are falling in real terms and council tax payments are being imposed as well as more benefit sanctions.
Meanwhile elsewhere in the country, councils and housing associations are leaving houses empty as they find themselves unable to rent larger properties as no-one can afford to pay the bedroom tax and there are no families in overcrowded conditions looking for a property in their area. Prior to the bedroom tax, they would have let them with spare rooms because a smaller income is better than no income. Now they are being left to rot or more likely be sold off to private developers, further reducing the stock of council and social housing and putting an upward pressure on rents.
The combination of these things mean that even if the bedroom tax saves money at the DWP, it will cost more for councils who cannot let houses, or because of the costs of taking people through courts for their arrears and then rehousing them afterwards. In the long run the loss of even more council housing will cause rents to rise, meaning the housing benefit bill will rise. The way out of this is a massive house building program, which will stimulate the economy producing jobs and growth, reduce rent and housing benefit costs and move us towards a zero-carbon economy. However, Iain Duncan-Smith has hailed the bedroom tax as a “great success” so don’t expect any change.
Ted Woodley, of the organising committee of the Erdington Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign, said:
Our campaign is prepared to use all of the means at our disposal to fight the bedroom tax. This includes local meetings, anti-bailiff mobilisations, demonstrations and where necessary standing our own anti-bedroom tax candidates in elections.
We urge the councillors to stick to their word, help us in our campaign and do all they can to bring an end to this attack on some of the poorest in our society.