Yesterday, anti-bedroom tax campaigners lobbied Birmingham City Council to enact a no eviction policy, so that those who are caught by this unfair charge do not risk losing their homes. Veronica Kenning, a Shard End resident who has terminal cancer and is refusing to leave her home is facing eviction as a result of bedroom tax debts. Well-wishers of Veronica will be gathering at her home tomorrow from 4pm-6pm to show support. At the council meeting yesterday, the council passed a motion calling for the policy to be scrapped, another sign of growing resistance from the local Labour party.
Latest figures show that there are just 75 one-bedroom flats available for 11,000 people caught by the bedroom tax in Birmingham. The mathematics of this situation should make it apparent that this charge is unworkable, before we even begin to think about whether the policy is fair. Those unable to move face the choice of cutting back on essentials like food or heating (and today we felt the first real chills of winter coming), of going into arrears and facing eviction or of moving to a more expensive private sector flat meaning that the housing benefit will rise not fall as a result of this policy. If someone who is unable to pay gets evicted a court might well decide that they were not made voluntarily homeless and this means the council will be required to find them emergency accommodation, far more expensive than council housing. Of course Iain Duncan-Smith won’t mind that because the higher cost will show up in the councils budgets, not in his department.
Birmingham City Council have put an extra £2m into the discretionary payment fund which people affected by the bedroom tax can apply to for support. This shows just how badly judged the bedroom tax was by Iain Duncan-Smith. Even the extra money won’t cover the cost of the bedroom tax and will leave people unfairly forced out of their homes. If all councils put extra money towards supporting those wrongly charged by the bedroom tax, this would cost even more money for the taxpayer. He reckons that people will move to non-existent smaller flats and houses and that the larger ones would be rented to people currently in overcrowded accomodation. In fact, larger homes are being left empty and boarded up all over the UK, as housing associations and councils find that there are not enough people who want a larger house to take them, or that the accommodation is not considered suitable for families with children (such as high floors in a tower block). It used to be that they had some discretion to let such places to single people or smaller families but now this won’t happen because nobody can afford the bedroom tax.
John Hemming reckons the solution is for people to get in a lodger, showing a complete ignorance of the situations that people are in which mean this is impossible or impractical. He ignores the foster parents who have siblings and are paying the tax on their second foster child’s bedroom. He ignores the separated parent with visiting children who is paying the tax on the beds their children will sleep in when they come to visit. He ignores that huge number of disabled people who use their “spare” room for something essential – a carer who is also a family member has a bedroom to sleep in, or to store equipment they need, or because the room has been made into a lift. He ignores people who for reasons such as being a victim of domestic violence (should someone in that position be forced to take a lodger that they don’t know or trust?), can’t reasonably live with anyone else (or at least need to have completely free choice of who they live with).
And he also ignores possible issues with tenancy agreements not allowing sub-letting. But then it seems the biggest result of the bedroom tax is likely to be evictions, and breaking your tenancy agreement can get you evicted, so perhaps our government is not so bothered about the possibilities of encouraging people to do something that gets them evicted.
Beyond the situations of people who cannot take a lodger, there are many other situations in which the bedroom tax is clearly unfair and/or counterproductive. There are disabled people living in adapted accommodation, where it will cost huge sums of money to adapt accommodation with fewer bedrooms. There are people who have lived and brought up a family in a home and a community, with no smaller accommodation nearby, forced to move out of their communities. There are people who have children of different genders aged 8 and 9. Right now they can share a bedroom, but once the elder is 10, they will need separate bedrooms. The same happens with siblings of the same gender aged 16. Is it right to force people to move only to have them need to move again in a few months?
There are people like Veronica Kenning, who has terminal cancer. She is determined to spend her remaining days in her family home of many years. She says that she is making her stand against the bedroom tax on behalf of all others placed in the impossible position of not being able to pay the tax, but not being able to find other suitable smaller accommodation. She considers it a disgrace that the local council would try and evict her.
So the bedroom tax is unfair. It is unworkable. It is counterproductive. The only purposes of the charge seem to be to attack those who claim benefits and social housing. It is already a failure of a policy, and it needs to be scrapped, with all debts written off and all charges returned. Iain Duncan-Smith is a man who believes in faith based policy. No evidence is going to change his course, he is a true believer. The only way this course is changed is through resistance – from councils and housing associations refusing evictions and supporting court actions to individuals and communities supporting each other and resisting eviction.