British Government Housing Policy Causing Deaths And Evictions

Author: September 5, 2013 7:44 pm
Austerity from the British government: Bedroom tax protest in manchester uk

The UK’s ruthless new Bedroom Tax proves the U.S. isn’t the only country that enjoys screwing poor people. Photo from www.urban75.net.

The United Kingdom’s conservative-learning Coalition Government has abruptly decided to cut housing benefits for residents whose homes have an extra bedroom — even when the household includes a member of the military serving abroad, two opposite-sex children (kids are supposed to share a bedroom), a minor who lives there part-time (due to custody arrangements), or a disabled person with large amounts of medical equipment — but they’re not covering moving expenses. Furthermore, some of these folks were originally able to afford the extra bedroom before getting hit by hard times, or their children have moved away. They can’t afford to move, but if they don’t pay the higher rent, they’ll be evicted. Angry citizens are calling this the “bedroom tax.” Shortly before the bedroom tax took effect in April, 2013, the Daily Mirror estimated 660,000 households would be effected and that 2/3rds of these homes include someone with a disability. One month later, a 53-year-old disabled grandmother literally threw herself under a bus because she couldn’t handle the rent increase.

Some ‘bedroom tax’ facts

  • Children under age 10 are expected to share a bedroom. So if you have a boy and a girl approaching age ten — which is getting awfully close to their teen years — they are deemed able to share, even if  you originally rented that home so you could split them.
  • Although children with disabilities are expected to share a bedroom as if they were healthy, a severely disabled child may apply to the local authority to be assessed.  If the child is severely disabled the other child may have its own bedroom. And if not severe enough then the healthy child is expected to share with the disabled child.
  • If the empty bedroom is because an adult member of the household is serving in Afghanistan or Iraq the deduction still applies. [The Daily Mirror]
  • Local authorities have a discretionary fund to prevent these evictions, but the disabled person has to apply. They often grow so panicked and demoralized, they don’t apply.
  • Taxpayers do not save money by evicting citizens with children and leaving them homeless. Local housing Councils are required to provide housing when children are involved, even if that means turning to the private sector.
  • Moving people around won’t be easy. Great Britain has a housing shortage and lacks homes that can easily be subdivided into smaller units with fewer bedrooms.
  • Even landlords and conservatives don’t like it. Some local housing Councils are refusing to evict people. [World Observer]

As usual, austerity measures fall hardest on the poor

In these difficult times all public expenditure should be looked at closely. No-one really argues with that. Never mind who caused the recession, the poorest in our society will have to contribute.

Some would argue that a better use of resources might be to look at tax evasion, which in Britain is calculated to run at £5.2 Billion a year.  ( $8.1 billion). One could look at the recent decision to lower the highest band of income tax, for people earning £150,000 a year ($244,630) from 50% to 45%. For an annual income of £1 million ($1,563,800) that would be worth £50,000 ($78,191). For thirteen thousand families earning £1 million or more the average saving is £100,000 ($149,632).

Some folk question whether Britain can afford a replacement for the  Trident nuclear missiles programme.

Housing benefits in Britain

Many people on low incomes or on benefits cannot afford to pay their rent out of their income. In Britain we have a subsidy called Housing Benefit that bridges the gap. The amount is based on claimant  income and on local rent levels.

Some people on Housing Benefit have a spare bedroom. This might be because a child has left home. It might be that a bedroom is kept for children from broken marriages who divide their time between their parents and have bedrooms at each home. There are couples who are still under the same roof but who do not sleep in the same room. If one has children of different sexes there will come a time when they should not share a bedroom. A wise person finds suitable accommodation that can cope with this problem before it arises.

Sometimes people are in the accommodation they had before the household needed to claim benefits. They could afford it when they got it.

The benefits system will not pay moving expenses. As anyone who has ever moved house knows, there are expenses like rent bonds and deposits that have to be paid out in advance. People who are having their rent paid have very little incentive to move to smaller homes.

The Coalition Government decided that it is not right for people whose housing is paid for from the public purse to have the luxury of a spare bedroom. There is now a deduction from benefit (described by opponents as a “bedroom tax”) for any household on Housing Benefit with a spare bedroom. The deduction is 14% for one empty bedroom and 25% for two empty bedrooms. This deduction is from people who have qualified for Housing Benefit because of their low incomes. They have no spare money. The rent still has to be paid, or eventually people will be evicted. The new rules came into effect on 1st April 2013 and already evictions have started.

People who were over 61 years and five months on 1 April 2013 are exempt. This may seem a curious age point. It has to do with the harmonisation of retirement ages for women (previously 6o years of age) and men (previously 65 years of age) and then complicated by the general raising of the retirement age.

“We believe that strong and stable families are the bedrock of a strong and stable society. That’s why we are doing everything we can to support families in tough times.” (Conservative Party website).

Where children divide their time between parents, the parent who receives the child benefit is deemed to have the children all week round, and the parent who does not receive the child benefit has spare bedrooms and so will have deductions from their Housing Benefit. Responsible parents are penalised under the new system. One way to “support families in tough times.” [Shelter Charity website]

Disabled and older residents hit hardest by the bedroom tax

Disabled people may be in expensively adapted or purpose built accommodation appropriate for their needs. There is often a spare bedroom for caregivers to use overnight. Sometimes there is a bedroom for family to use when they visit. For severely handicapped people there may be a spare room for all of their equipment!  These all count as “spare”, and the 14% deduction or 25% deduction applies. [Shelter Charity website]

People who are disabled may understandably feel depressed or isolated. When they begin to receive threatening letters from their landlord they may “freeze”. They may be emotionally unable to handle the situation. Inclusion Scotland reports a man slit his wrist in a Housing Benefit office, saying that they could have his blood because that was all he had left to give them. This advocacy group for the disabled also wrote that another severely disabled mother of two was on the point of eviction when the landlord declared a six month moratorium on evictions.

  • Local authorities have a discretionary fund to prevent these evictions, but the disabled person has to apply. They often grow so panicked and demoralized, they don’t apply.
  • Although children with disabilities are expected to share a bedroom as if they were healthy, a severely disabled child may apply to the local authority to be assessed.  If the child is severely disabled the other child may have its own bedroom. And if not severe enough then the healthy child is expected to share with the disabled child.

Back in May, The Mirror reported a 53-year-old grandmother with a chronic illness committed suicide because she couldn’t afford her £80 rent hike (about $125 USD). She jumped in front of a bus, and left a note blaming the British Government and the bedroom tax for her death. Stephanie Bottrill wrote in her final letter:

“I don’t [blame] anyone for me death expect [sic] the government.”

Her son Steven, 27, said she was struggling to cope after being told to pay £20-a-week extra for two under-occupied bedrooms at her home in Solihull. He told the Mirror:

“I couldn’t believe it. She said not to blame ourselves, it was the Government and what they were doing that caused her to do it. [...] She was fine before this bedroom tax. It was dreamt up in London, by people living in offices and big houses. They have no idea the effect it has on people like my mum.”

Why they can’t just move

The traditional house in the UK is a two bedroom or three bedroom house. They do not easily subdivide into one bedroom properties. There was a housing crisis already, before the bedroom tax came in.

  • There are not enough small properties to move into. In Scotland detailed figures for a number of local authorities show that there is no practical possibility for most people to downsize. [The Daily Record]
  • In Kirklees, Yorkshire, the council has 51 one bedroom properties to rent, and 6,623 wanting to rent them. [The UK Examiner]

Re-housing people is harder than you think

If a family with children  is homeless, for almost whatever reason, the local authority must either take the children into care or arrange housing for the family. If there is no council housing available the council must turn to the private sector, either houses or bed and breakfast establishments. This has to be paid for by the Council, and is usually more expensive that letting the family live in their old home would have been. The State saves no money at all.

A disabled person is also vulnerable. The disabled person is likely to end up living in a property without adequate disability aids. The council may pay more than the tenant was previously paying for a specially converted property with all the disability aids needed.

Some landlords and councils are saying that small bedrooms are merely storage rooms, not bedrooms, to reclassify the properties as having one bedroom less. Some are blocking off a room so the tenant does not have to move, or converting a bedroom into a bathroom. The Government does not approve.

Minister Lord Freud, who has 12 bedrooms at his two homes, has warned Councils not to reclassify properties as smaller so as to avoid causing difficulties. [The Daily Mirror]

Some Councils are declaring that they will not evict people because of the bedroom tax. In Bolton the council has 91 single room properties, with 11,000 people on the waiting list to transfer into them. Labour Councillors declared a “no evictions policy. The Conservative councillors voted with the Labour majority for this position. They say that there are not enough smaller properties in Bolton for people to move to, so the bedroom tax is unfair. Earlier this year the Conservatives opposed this position. The Deputy Leader of the Conservatives resigned from the Conservative group. As evictions have come closer the Conservative group have moved to a “no evictions” policy. [World Observer]

The national Labour Party have been very quiet on the issue. Labour’s Finance spokesperson, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, will be Chancellor if Labour are elected in May 2015. The Government say that “under-occupation” of properties is costing the Government money. If Labour abolish the “bedroom tax”, where will the money come from? So Ed Balls has been unwilling to agree to a commitment to abolish the bedroom tax.

Ed Balls has recently decided that the extra financial costs to local councils from the rehousing of evicted families and disabled people will soon outweigh the “savings” from the bedroom tax. Also, rent arrears have mounted hugely, creating financial strain on all social housing providers. Labour will shortly announce their intention to abolish the bedroom tax.

 

 

 

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