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The bedroom tax: unfair, ineffective, plain nasty

The absurdity of the bedroom tax has come home to me while on the campaign trail in Hemel in recent weeks. Of course, the absurdity of effectively fining people in social housing who find themselves with a spare room is self-evident, especially when there is no locally available accommodation for them to move into. But two personal stories have brought home the sheer cruelty of this ill-thought out and frankly vindictive policy.

The first tale comes from the manager of a charity shop in town – she has worked as the manager of a long-established charity shop for many years, a role with a modest wage but one that she has carried out with the passion that drives so many in the third sector. Her children have now gone to university and suddenly a spare room lurks, vital for when they return home but subject to the bedroom tax nonetheless.  And what is she offered as alternative accommodation? A flat elsewhere in Hemel that will make her dependent on public transport, remove her ability to work late, and render her employment in the charity shop financially unviable. So, much for making work pay!

The second tale comes from an Adeyfield resident disabled a couple of years ago in a car accident who must now vacate her specially adapted home and is being asked to move to a different area, again because of the spare room that her children once occupied, and as a result of the rent arrears caused directly by the bedroom tax.

In each case, the bedroom tax has impacted on individuals who have done nothing to ‘cause’ their situation, and is forcing individuals not just to uproot from their homes but their communities. In the first example, the individual may even end up giving up a long held job with a charity undertaking vital work. 

In short, the bedroom tax threatens to up-root people, disrupt communities and drive welfare dependency up, not down; if there were appropriately sized and located good quality homes for people to move to, we might begin to think about encouraging - or even incentivizing - people to voluntarily relocate, but an antipathy from this government towards any form of social housing, and those in it, has put paid to that, as Paul Eastwood’s blog makes clear. 

Ending the injustice of punishing often-vulnerable people financially because they happen to find themselves with a spare room is rightly a priority of an in-coming Labour administration. We should look forward to kissing this nasty tax – and nasty piece of policymaking – a swift and early good bye.

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