The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ has been controversial from the start. Introduced by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, it’s officially described as a ‘spare room subsidy’, a measure which means that families receive housing benefit for the number of bedrooms they need, but not the costs of claimants’ spare rooms.
However, in a pointed report, the Scottish Affairs Committee has called on the government in London to scrap the reforms, arguing that it rather is “a budget cut suffered by those in greatest need”. In the view of the Committee’s chairman, the Labour MP Ian Davidson, it has been a “cruel burden” on the poor.
He explained that the Committee has produced an interim report because, “while the impact of the bedroom tax cannot yet be fully quantified, it is already clear that it is a cruel burden being placed upon the shoulders of those least able to bear it. This tax is little more than a cut in public expenditure, designed to hit the poorest.
“We have produced an interim report because some glaring flaws are already apparent and notwithstanding our call for the tax to be abolished, we wish to draw these faults to the government’s attention while it is conducting a review.”
In a statement, the Department of Work and Pensions claimed that the reforms protected the most vulnerable by ensuring that a disabled child could have their own room and bedrooms are allowed for live-in carers. It also noted that Scottish councils had been provided with over £10m to help tenants through our reforms.
However, recent reports have suggested that rent arrears have risen sharply since the reforms came into effect back in April. Various estimates suggest that local authorities around Scotland could be owed over £3m in arrears. Across the UK, as many as one third of all tenants may have fallen behind with their rental payments. Social landlords have also reported that this was causing them financial difficulties.
Welcoming the Committee’s report, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations described its conclusion as a ‘common-sense call’. for the repeal of the ‘bedroom tax’.
In the view of Policy Manager, David Ogilvie, “when we are talking about social housing, we are not talking coldly about a commodity, but rather we are talking about peoples’ homes and peoples’ lives. Furthermore, we welcome the Committee’s call in the interim, while abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’ is considered, for a series of changes to the operation and implementation of the policy.
“We agree that it should not be applied to individual tenants until a reasonable alternative is offered. This is a common-sense approach that we had fought hard for and won at the Bill stage, before it was over-turned by the Coalition Government who cited ‘financial privilege’.”
Today’s interim report was opposed by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs but the Labour majority on the Committee resulted in the failure of their attempts to prevent it being produced.