For a government looking to rein in public spending and, in particular, an ever more costly welfare state, the so-called “bedroom tax” would appear a sensible idea.
The plan to reduce housing benefit by about £14 per week for each of a household’s spare bedrooms gave those living in larger properties the option of moving elsewhere – freeing up space for others – or, if they wished, finding the extra money to retain their roomier home.
Sounds reasonable enough. The problem is that, in contact with the real world, the scheme is proving unworkable. Cracks were appearing even before it came into force in April. Foster carers, for example, managed to secure an exemption, as did some other groups. But many anomalies remained. Amid the confusion and last-minute concessions, Iain Duncan Smith should have taken the opportunity to reconsider; yet he pressed on regardless.Now, though, the full extent of the Work and Pensions Secretary’s failure to think things through is becoming apparent. As we report today, 97 per cent of the families wanting to move to avoid losing their benefits are unable to do so. Why? Because smaller housing is not available.
Perhaps such a sorry state of affairs makes sense for a Treasury hoping to claw back £500m. But the sleight-of-hand imposition of an arbitrary benefit cut is hardly evidence of the fairness and motivation to work of which Mr Duncan Smith talks. Furthermore, the debacle only highlights perhaps the Coalition’s greatest failure of all – its inability to solve the housing crisis and ease the bottlenecks doing much to inflate the very bill that the Work and Pensions Secretary so wants to reduce.
The bedroom tax was a shambles before it came in; now it is revealed as an iniquity, too. It must be re-thought – and fast.