Wednesday, 6 February 2013
'No One Size Fits All'
The ConDems really have opened a can of worms with their Bedroom Tax policy.
Whilst I can understand the need to reduce the £21 billion housing benefit paid out, the policy is so disjointed it will be unworkable.
When Margaret Thatcher introduced the sale of council houses she also ensured the death knell of council houses for life, because the council housing stocks reduced radically in the following years. Few were built to replace those sold and those which were constructed were family homes with three or four bedrooms. Developers don't make much money from building one or two bedroomed homes so why build them when they can have far greater profits from larger properties.
At that time nobody imagined the influx of immigrants who would come to live on these islands 30 years later.
It's all very well for politicians to decide that people should live in homes suited to their family's size - most people do so through the need to keep their living expenses as low as possible. However, many council house dwellers are claimants of housing benefit, which of course comes from taxpayers. Since the days are long gone when a council house contract secured a particular house for a lifetime, it does seem sensible that people whose circumstances have changed, get the offer of smaller - or larger - accommodation.
I know several home owners who have downsized in recent years, because they could no longer afford to keep their homes well maintained or felt they were too big for them. In such cases it's expected that there will be some capital left over from the sale of larger property, but that isn't always so. Some years ago far sighted developers started to build 'over 50s properties' or 'retirement properties' with services such as resident wardens and communal lounges. These services don't come cheap and many people found they had little capital left, but they did have the security of a property which provided social interaction.
Councils used to provide similar facilities for their tenants, but stopped building properties for the elderly and gradually withdrew the warden services. This has left many vulnerable people isolated and as many have no savings, they are unable to provide a few of the things which make life slightly more tolerable in older age.
The new Bedroom Tax doesn't affect those beyond the official working age but it does affect another vulnerable group, the disabled. This is the group which will be most affected by these changes, although some say that non-custodial parents whose children visit regularly are also to be denied, or pay extra, for a second bedroom. Children can sleep on sofa beds, but some disabled do need a room for equipment or carers. How can government officials decide who is worthy of having a 'spare' bedroom when the outsourced ATOS company has made such a mess of disabled assessments?
My concern about the disabled is personal. The husband of a good friend of mine has to use an oxygen machine whilst sleeping and because the machine is noisy they agreed a year or so ago that he would sleep in the 'spare' room. Their income would be severely stretched if they had to lose 14% of their housing benefit.
A bigger problem lies with private social landlords who see this new tax as a reason to increase rents or redefine mere cupboards as bedrooms.
No one size fits all but surely the first to be reassured should be those whose disability necessitates the need for a 'spare' room.
Like many other laws passed since the coalition came into being, this one hasn't been thought out thoroughly. If it had been, it would have been obvious at the initial stages, that the lack of one and two bedroomed council accommodation would make the policy unworkable.