A recipe for sleepless nights: Vote to throw out 'bedroom tax' fails in Parliament

The result leaves thousands of poorer families and disabled people facing more financial hardship. Here we outline 10 reasons why the policy is unjust and unworkable

Of all the Government’s welfare reforms, the so-called bedroom tax is rapidly becoming its most controversial.

Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron was among Coalition politicians who voted for the immediate termination of the policy following a Parliamentary debate on its flaws. Senior Liberal Democrat MP, Andrew George voted with him, saying it would create the ghettos of the future and is Dickensian in its social divisiveness. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes, argued that the Government should exempt anyone who had applied to live in a smaller property.

The vote on its abolition was lost by 26 votes and came after Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves launched an attack on the housing benefit change in Parliament. She said: “Let me be very clear – if I am Secretary of State in 2015, this will be the first thing that I will do, reverse this unfair and pernicious tax.”

Under the controversial reforms, housing benefit is cut by 14 per cent for those deemed to have a “spare” bedroom and 25 per cent for claimants with two or more extra bedrooms.

Iain Duncan Smith was in Paris at a summit on youth unemployment, leaving Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, to defend it. The policy, which critics say penalises some of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable without offering a viable solution to the country’s social housing shortage, has drawn comparisons with the hated Poll Tax. Like the Poll Tax, which the Thatcher government insisted was a “community charge”, the Coalition believe the bedroom tax should be referred to as removing the “spare room subsidy”.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, Duncan Smith said the Government had “grasped the nettle” of Britain’s housing issue and “ended the thoroughly unfair subsidy that saw the taxpayer forking out for almost one million spare bedrooms in the social rented sector”. But a rising number of housing associations and experts have produced evidence suggesting the policy is fundamentally flawed and unlikely to provide either the financial or housing solutions it promised.

1. It may not save money

One of the stated aims of the policy was to reduce the housing benefit bill, but there is mounting evidence that it could hardly dent it. In the Government’s original calculation of the savings from the changes, it was assumed people would accept the cuts in their housing benefit and stay put in bigger properties with less money. But research from York University suggests at least a fifth of tenants move to a smaller property to avoid the reduced income.

Since smaller properties are often in the private rented market this can actually cost local authorities more in housing benefit than a bigger council house. The Government has also increased the amount of money it spends on discretionary housing payments – emergency funds for those struggling to keep up with rent – but many local authorities say they are running out.

2. Social housing shortage

The fallout from Right to Buy over the past three decades – combined with a rising population – means there is a chronic shortage in local authority housing.

The shortage is so acute that 96 per cent of those affected by the bedroom tax would have no smaller social housing to move to, according to Labour analysis of government figures.

Experts argue the only real way to tackle the shortage in social housing is to build more homes, but cuts to council budgets make this an impossibility for many. The last financial year has seen the lowest number of new homes built since the 1920s, with just 135,117 completed.

3. Councils have the ‘wrong’ homes

Until recently, councils were encouraged to build homes for families to grow into, meaning in many areas there are simply not enough one- and two-bedroom properties.

The situation is so farcical that one housing association, Magenta Living in Liverpool, is considering demolishing three-bedroom homes it can no longer let because families do not want the extra charge. In the meantime, those wanting to avoid reduced housing benefit are renting smaller properties in the private sector, which cost the local authority more.

4. Penalises most vulnerable

Almost two-thirds of the more than 600,000 people affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. Since the policy came into force in April there has been a tranche of legal challenges relating to the necessity of a “spare” room for those who need to store specialist equipment or who cannot share a room with a partner or sibling because of their condition. Disabled children who need their own room are now exempt from the charge, but adults still face the extra cost.

Labour MP Stephen Pound described how his brother, who is “in total renal failure”, faced losing his home because he was keeping his dialysis unit in a “spare” room. Mr Pound said his brother was not exempt from the charge and told the Commons: “[He] faces losing his home of 20 years.”

5. Wasted money spent on adaptations

Councils spend tens of thousands of pounds adapting social housing for disabled tenants. If families are forced to move, they will need the same adaptations all over again, creating an extra cost for the local authority.

6. It won’t tackle overcrowding

The latest figures show that around 375,000 households across England and Wales are living in overcrowded homes in the social rented sector. The Government argues the policy will tackle this but in many of the places where overcrowding is an issue there are no smaller homes for those families to move to.

7. Increasing debt

Families hit by the tax are forced to move or face losing an average of £720 a year, causing rising personal debt. A recent survey of housing associations in England found more than half of residents affected had been unable to pay rent between April and June. Another study found that a quarter of those impacted are in rent arrears for the first time.

8. Pensioners exempt

Although few people would like to see pensioners have to pay the bedroom tax, their exclusion is illogical. With their children largely moved out, they are likely to be one of the biggest groups of under-occupiers. Political pundits have suggested the decision to leave them out may have had more to do the power of the elderly vote than worries about their welfare.

9. Families will be split

Separated parents have pointed out the damaging impact of the policy on those who have only weekend access to their children. Several fathers say their children are only allowed to stay overnight for a full weekend if there is a bedroom for them to sleep in. Yet the spare room subsidy means divorced fathers living alone are no longer eligible for housing benefit which covers more than one bedroom.

10. Lack of political support

As well as vocal Labour opposition to the policy, Liberal Democrats – and even some Conservatives – are coming out against it. The Liberal Democrat conference passed a motion opposing the reforms with an overwhelming majority and earlier this week Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s father branded the policy “unfair”. Tory MP Jeremy Lefroy said that the Government needed to look at making changes to the policy, adding that councils must not evict tenants who can no longer pay their rent.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker