I admit I have broached this subject before but it hasn’t gone away, so neither will I.Yesterday, 29th July 2013, the High Court ruled that the government is not discriminating against disabled people by insisting they be subject to the Bedroom Tax, the unofficial name for having housing benefit withdrawn from people claiming benefit for homes that are too big for them. It may be Legal, but is it morally Right.
This ruling is likely to affect thousands of claimants and it is totally unfair. Disabled people DO need extra space. They often require room to store special equipment, have spare accommodation for careers who may not live at the property but do stay overnight. This is apart from the fact that their accommodation may have been especially adapted for their needs.
There is supposed to be a fund to help such people but it would seem that this is either not enough or not being implemented, otherwise the people who brought this court case would have had no need to bring it.
So what is behind this bedroom tax?
The government is concerned that too many people are living in overcrowded conditions, while there are many people living on benefits who have spare rooms.
The first question that should be asked is why are these people on benefit in the first place?
Contrary to popular belief not all claimants are unmarried mothers with loads of children or scroungers who have never done a day’s work in their life. The vast majority are people who have led hard-working lives who have lost their jobs through redundancy, sickness or injury. Many would like to work but just can’t find a job because of age or lack of skills.
Why are these people living in social housing? Some might have lost their homes because they lost their job and had their home repossessed. Some might have split from their partner because of divorce. For a large number the three bedroom house/flat has been their home for a lifetime. Why should they have to leave just because the children have now grown up and moved away. These are not simply buildings but homes with memories.
Yes, with an ever growing population housing is a big problem. But simply denying the people who have homes the means to pay for them is not the solution. For one thing, there are not enough places to allow people to downsize even if they want to. A dear friend of mine is in this situation and has been told if he wants to move to a smaller flat it will have to be in a different area and then he will have to bid to get something because there are more people needing smaller places than there are places available. So it’s pay up or live on the streets.
Why are there so few homes available? Who knows. I put the blame at least partly on the shoulders of the late, supposedly great, Mrs Thatcher who allowed councils to sell off council houses. That would have been a good idea if the councils then built the same number of new homes to replace those sold, but they didn’t.
And while people are being forced out of their homes against their wishes, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of houses standing empty around the country. If the government is concerned about housing people they should be looking at doing something with these. But somehow I think they are more interested in getting money from people who are struggling to make ends meet because that is what is happening more often than not.
It would be very interesting to see what has happened since this change in benefits came into effect in April. How many people have actually moved to smaller accommodation? How many people who were living in overcrowded accommodation have now moved into larger homes? How many people have taken the option of paying the extra demanded by the government to stay in their home, putting paying the rent ahead of buying food and paying to heat their homes? Does anyone know?
I will end this blog post the with same question I opened with. It may be legal but is it morally right? The government is trying to make it seem that the fault lays with the people who live in places with spare rooms, but it is not that simple. Has this country lost its compassion for those less fortunate than the majority?