Ministers should have looked at the evidence before implementing the bedroom tax

For those who have been following the Bedroom Tax and talking to people affected by it, it will be no surprise that according to today’s Guardian Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing, thinks that it may be a violation of the human right to adequate housing.

Having had numerous such conversations myself, it is impossible to avoid this conclusion. People are being put in an impossible position. Many of the victims are working, so the Tory myth of “scroungers” is bogus. There are many who would be willing to move – but there is nowhere cheaper for them to move to.

The Government response to the UN special rapporteur’s comments is astounding:

It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings – instead of actual hard research and data.

While it is nice to hear the Government taking an interest in “actual hard research and data” it is a shame they weren’t interested before adopting the policy. The National Housing Federation published a document in March 2013, The bedroom tax: some home truths, pointing out that the annual Housing Benefit bill could increase by £143 million a year if tenants affected downsize into private rented housing due to the lack of social rented properties of the right size.

Elfyn Llwyd claimed last week on Any Questions that Labour have failed to stand up for people on this issue. This is absolutely untrue. Labour ensured that there was a vote on the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 on 24 October 2012. Elfyn Llwyd didn’t vote and neither did Jonathan Edwards, although the third Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams was there and voted with Labour against the regulations.

Liam Byrne has made clear that Labour continues to oppose the bedroom tax. In this speech he says

The bedroom tax is already costing the public an extra £102.5 million to implement. It should be dropped, and dropped now.

He also castigates Ian Duncan Smith for the mess he has made of implementing Universal Credit. Of course in 2015 it won’t be a matter of simply reverting to the system as it was in 2010 – you can’t do that. Over the next two years he will need to put together a plan for making the system fairer again, without changing things so quickly that the system collapses.

While I’m at it, let’s be clear what the Government’s Lobbying Bill would mean – no charity could make a public statement on the impact of the bedroom tax for fear of being seen to influence the outcome of the General Election (or the Welsh Assembly Election or Scottish Parliament election – so that’s no public comments for two years out of five). Turns out they don’t really want to hear about the evidence after all – and they don’t want us to hear about it either.


2 thoughts on “Ministers should have looked at the evidence before implementing the bedroom tax

  1. Can’t ever imagine I’d vote for a political party that’s represented by the likes of Liam Byrne MP . . . but I’m with you on this one; the Bedroom Tax is unfair and I agree with your long held views on the subject. Will Labour help those not so fortunate in our society by ensuring we build more much needed Social Housing in the UK?

    I like the sound of a ‘Landlord Tax’ to fund such an objective . . . Food for thought!

    • Building more social housing is absolutely essential. I think I met a full set of tradesmen while going door to door on Ynys Môn who were either unemployed or were doing a job that didn’t take advantage of their skills – carpenter, plumber, roofer, plasterer, tiler, brick-layer. Men and women who could be put to work building affordable housing (we need mixed tenure estates where some people will choose to rent, others to buy and others to part-buy). Given the low interest rates for public works board loans, it would easily pay for itself – it just needs government to make it happen.

      I think we need to have fair taxes on property – which means council tax being progressive and a mansion tax for properties over a certain value. Second homes and empty properties should be taxed at the full rate – which would create the appropriate incentives for getting property back into use (if you want to be exempt from council tax on your second or empty home, you should have to make it available to a social landlord to rent out). A package of measures (which would need to be phased in over time) would help stabilise our housing market instead of assuming that an ever-rising market is a good thing.

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