Pushed from pillar to post?

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser in response to comments by North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson.

Justin Tomlinson wrote in his Advertiser column that it is a myth that the ‘bedroom tax’ is “driven by a desire to save money”. If he had bothered to read the impact assessment produced by the government’s Department of Work and Pensions he would have read that the measure is being introduced to “contain growing Housing Benefit expenditure” and to “improve work incentives for working age claimants”.

By “work incentives” this means cutting recipients’ money so that they have even less money to live on. People on Job Seekers Allowance will have to pay up to 25% of their rent and at least 20% Council Tax as well out of the miserly sum of £71 a week on which they are somehow supposed to live. For some this will mean paying well over £20 a week, giving them less than £50 a week to live on. 

It is true that the legislation talks about “making better use of available social housing stock”, but this is a fig leaf to cover the fact that this inhumane measure is part of the government’s demonisation of benefit recipients. It is only directed at people on Housing Benefit. Pensioners, and tenants who pay full rent, are unaffected, even if they have so-called ‘spare’ bedrooms. So probably two thirds of those homes with ‘spare bedrooms’ are unaffected.

If Mr Tomlinson had bothered to check the real facts he would discover that the ‘bedroom tax’ will have a marginal impact on available accommodation. Indeed for those many thousands of people on the waiting list who ‘qualify’ for a one bed property it will mean they have to wait longer. More than 600 existing Council tenant households in Swindon will be added to those 4,400 on the waiting list (Bands A and B only) who ‘need’ 1 bed properties. More than 5,000 are chasing after the available one bed properties.

At the current rate of new tenancies for 1 bed properties given out each year, to accommodate all the victims of the ‘bedroom tax’ who ‘need’ a 1 bedroom property, would take more than six years, but only if those on the waiting list were made to wait longer.

The rules on what constitute a ‘spare’ bedroom take no account of real life experience. What is considered ‘spare’ depends on the family composition and the age of the children. One year it might be ‘spare’ the next year not.

To take one example, a single mother with two children, in a 3 bed house, would have to ‘downsize’ to a 2 bed house to avoid paying the ‘bedroom tax’. If the two children were of mixed sex then when one of them reached ten, the family would qualify for a 3 bed property again, or at 16 if they were the same sex. Yet when the first child leaves home, they would have to downsize again to a 2 bed. Then when the other child left home, the mother would have to downsize again to a 1 bed property. How can anybody live a stable life when they are pushed from pillar to post in this way.

The ‘bedroom tax’ is based on the ‘bedroom standard’. This is the measure of ‘need’ and it is absurd. It causes over-crowding. A couple only qualify for one bedroom. What is the sense of putting a young couple in a one bedroom property when as soon as they have a child they will have to be moved into a 2 bed property, if there is one available.

Mr Tomlinson is supporting legislation which will force disabled tenants to pay even when a couple have to sleep in separate rooms for medical reasons. Mr Tomlinson is supporting legislation which forces foster cares to pay for a ‘spare’ bedroom even when there is a foster child sleeping in it. Mr Tomlinson is supporting legislation which will penalise tenants even if they have applied for a move, but the Council is unable to offer them alternative accommodation.

Mr Tomlinson is supporting a measure which as Council or Housing Association staff will tell him has caused great anxiety amongst tenants who are desperately worried about how they can find the money to pay.

It is Mr Tomlinson and his government which is being unfair to those on the waiting list by refusing to do anything serious to tackle the housing shortage. If he was bothered about the numbers on the waiting list he would press the government to facilitate the building of new Council housing, the only way that the numbers waiting will be cut.

The crisis cannot be resolved by persecuting people on HB and policing each and every bedroom. It can only be resolved by building new Council housing. Blaming tenants for the shortage is just a cynical means of setting tenant against tenant. Existing tenants are not responsible for the shortage. The politicians are.

Martin Wicks

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

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