Saturday, 21 September 2013

Scrapping Bedroom Tax announcement result of Labour Town Hall pressure

Ed Miliband's announcement that an incoming Labour government will scrap the hated Bedroom Tax is welcome - Camden Labour was part of coalition of Labour Town Halls and Groups up and down the country who have been seen the impact of this dumb Coalition policy which hits people when they are down.

Labour councillors, Camden included, pressed for this with Shadow Ministers at a Bedroom Tax Labour councils summit in Manchester (June) and Birmingham (September).

This week scores of Labour leaders wrote to Ed Miliband in the most concerted show of Labour local government advocacy we have seen in over a generation:
We know that rightly you want to make sure that our Party has a strong reputation for financial responsibility. We all know that the Government has never made a proper financial analysis about the hidden costs of bedroom tax. Forcing people to move from a socially owned property to a privately owned property costs more in housing benefit. Chasing people for small debts can cost a lot more than it brings in. Evicting people for not paying rent and rehousing them is very expensive. Some councils and housing associations are no longer able to let out three bedroom properties and this is hurting our rental income and our ability to finance more property building. 
For us the finances are not the main issue. This is an argument about principles, the true costs of the bedroom tax are human and are far worse. 
We know that that the Bedroom Tax is disproportionately hitting disabled people, 420,000 people who need space for carers, washing space and equipment are being affected by it. People are getting into arrears which is causing them anguish. They are forced to move out of their neighbourhoods and away from their support base because there is a shortage of one bedroom properties - a situation that has built up because councils listened to governments of all parties and built properties big enough for families. We know that the Government gave local authorities discretionary housing payments but that money only covers £1 in every £7 cut from the benefit changes and in many councils it has already run out. We know that many of our residents are not getting in to arrears yet because they are turning to pay day leaders and we know what the impact of that will be. The Bedroom Tax is forcing people who cannot work out of their homes and in to debt. The Bedroom Tax hits the most vulnerable in our society and it hits them hard. We cannot have a One Nation Britain while Bedroom Tax exists.
The full impact of the Bedroom Tax and other welfare changes can be found here but here's a summary of why it matters in Camden:

Hits the people when they are down

Of Camden council tenants 79% are under-occupying by 1 bedroom, 21% by 2 or more bedrooms.  But it's clearly not as simple as saying to people that they should downsize if they are in a flat with ‘spare’ rooms - there clearly aren't the properties on the market to do that: if only third of households moved, Camden would need an extra 308 one bedroom properties; 153 two beds; 36 three beds and 7 four beds to come onto the market immediately.

Ending the Bedroom Tax matters in Camden, because the measure hits the poorest the hardest and gives them little option but to become poorer still.

Here are some stats:
  • 1826 council and RSL tenant households have been affected. Average loss in benefit is £21.24/week - not enough to push people into eviction territory for a while, but more than enough to make poor families poorer.
  • 66% of children in households impacted by the Bedroom Tax are on free school meals.
  • 37% of children in households impacted by the Bedroom Tax have special educational needs.
  • No dog-whistle on large immigrant families:  the largest identified grouping impacted are "white British or White Other" - white British children are over-represented.
Pushes people further into debt
We can already see the impact in Camden - pushing struggling families further into debt.
  • 1,333 'Bedroom Tax' households are in arrears, with an average of £542.82.  Those in arrears have gone up by +9% since January.    
  • The arrears rate for Bedroom Tax-affected households is in turn higher than for all Housing Benefit claimants. This group was already struggling before the Bedroom Tax took effect, suggesting that these households already have difficulties managing budgets (e.g. low paid work, disability etc) which will be exacerbated by the Bedroom Tax.
Camden Labour's approach to helping people is set out here.  Fundamentally we need to go further - the Bedroom Tax debate has highlighted the struggles of his particular group and the poverty trap or low or now pay.   We now have the needed space to develop active help to lift these households out of poverty benefits and into work.

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