You see this time last year, I was working in the House of Lords doing research on the Welfare Reform Bill for a Labour Peer. I sat through the team meetings as Labour tried to halt the bill or at least make amendments that would limit it’s damage. I met with concerned NGOs, sat through the committee stages and was saddened to see it eventually pass through to become the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
During all those discussions, we could see the damage the legislation would do and have been talking and worrying about it ever since. The press, however, aren’t interested in something that’s not going to happen for 12 months. They need human stories and angles. They like it to be current. Right now, not six months from now. After all, today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping and all that.
But as Spring starts to unfold before us, April is just around the corner and now the media can see the headlines around the Bedroom Tax.
That’s because in April, the Welfare Benefit Act will bring in an under-occupation penalty on people who claim housing benefit. This is essentially a tax on those who rent homes in the social housing sector.
We’re not talking about a few hundred people here either. Around 660,000 will be hit by this tax. That’s 20% of social housing tenants. Having just one spare bedroom will mean a cut of 14% in your benefit. Two or more spare bedrooms will see a 25% cut.
So Jean* who lives in a council house in Basildon and has a room for her daughter who serves in the Army overseas, will lose money and maybe her family home. Her daughter won’t have a room to come home to.
Or Tom and Kirsty*, a married couple in Bermondsey, who have separate rooms because of Kirsty’s debilitating illness. Tom is her carer as well as her husband. They will be penalised for that.
Or Claire* in Bishop Auckland. She lives on Employment Support Allowance in an unemployment black spot. Her £66 a week rent is paid by Housing Benefit. From April, her benefit will go up to £71.70. Out of that, she pays £10 a week for electricity and £6 a week for water rates. Like lots of people in Bishop Auckland, she still uses coal for heating and 3 bags will cost her £19.50 a week. Her bus fare is £4 a week and her bedroom tax will be £9.24 a week. This leaves her with £22.96 per week.
Claire then shops at the cheapest shops in her area and buys washing powder for £1, toothpaste for 15p, a toothbrush for 10p, sanitary products for 40p, washing up liquid for 5p, bin bags at 10p, bleach at 40p, cleaning products at 50p, deodorant for 25p, shampoo for 40p, foil/cling film for 10p, and saving for shoes, clothing and household items of £2.
That leaves her £17.71 for food. That’s £2.53 a day. Unless you’re in similar circumstances to Claire, I doubt you’ve ever tried to live on £2.53 per day. I’m certain the Prime Minister or Iain Duncan Smith have never lived on £2.53 a day!
If you’re wondering how far you’d get, but don’t want to try the experiment for yourself, you’re in luck. Claire’s MP, CSM member Helen Goodman is doing it for you.
From yesterday, Helen is living on a food budget of £18 a week and video-blogging about it daily. Helen said
“It is completely unfair of the Government to introduce a Bedroom tax on the most vulnerable on the same day they are cutting taxes for Millionaires”.
That’s 8 years of uncertainty, worry, and stress. 8 years of hunger, poverty and sleepless nights.
And not only that, but people face having to move whenever their family circumstances change! Family and community are the elements that the government has missed in all this. Forgetting community and concentrating on commodity is a recipe for disaster. It’s Goldman Sachs does social housing.
Louise Baldock, a councillor in Liverpool, said
“Families are not rigid and inflexible, many things happen which alter the ebb and flow of accommodation, simple rules are not appropriate. Family members move in, move out and move on, and sometimes, very sadly they die….. Strong communities are built where people know their neighbours and look out for them and wehere people have pride in their streeet and their property. They establish roots, engage in the local Tenants and Residents Association or neighbourhood watch and generally enjoy living where they do”
I think this may be the most despicable thing they’ve ever done and I hope more can be done before it’s too late.
If you want to watch Helen’s video-blogs, and I really recommend you do, then you can find them here:
* All the names used in case studies are fictional. The problems are not.