A housing association in Wales has warned that the Government’s Bedroom Tax will hit many tenants “like a hurricane”.
Under the Welfare Reform Act, passed last year, the new tax will, from April 2013 see the level of benefit that people can access cut if they are considered to have a spare bedroom.
The cut will be a fixed percentage of the Housing Benefit eligible rent. The Government has said that this will be set at 14% for one extra bedroom and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms. The Government’s own impact assessment meanwhile suggests that those affected will lose an average of £14 a week. Housing association tenants are expected to lose £16 a week on average.
Speaking over the weekend, Duncan Forbes, Chief Executive of the Torfaen based Bron Afon Community Housing Association has warned of communities being broken up by the reform. Quoted in the Western Mail he explained:
“The ‘bedroom tax’ is going to be like a hurricane hitting Torfaen. Children will face disruption, which will have consequences for their welfare and education. Communities that have lived together for many years will be broken up.”
In declaring that the policy simply has “no logic” as in areas like his, the greatest shortage is of small houses whilst in other areas, such as Cardiff, the greatest pressure is on three-or-more bedroom family homes, for which there are often lengthy waiting lists. Forbes continued:
“It costs more to rent a private sector one-bedroom flat than one of our three-bedroom houses so it won’t save money when people move. It will cost more to deal with the family and individual crises that it will cause than it will save.
“It does nothing to help our local housing pressures because the greatest pressure is on smaller homes. These are exactly the homes that the ‘bedroom tax’ forces people to try to move to.
“Residents are struggling and striving to make ends meet and this change is going to hit them even more.”
Estimates suggest that two-thirds of households that will be affected by the changes including some with a disability. One such person is 53 year old Carol Whitcombe, who is blind and lives near Pontypool in a two-bedroom house who was quoted in the Western Mail over the weekend:
“I’ve got arthritis of the spine. I’ve had hand rails all over the place and an electric shower so I can have a shower instead of a bath.
“They’ve done something to the back door, I’ve got a back porch and they’ve put a ramp instead of steps, they’ve put rails outside. I’ve got Braille on my stove. It’s more a disabled flat now.
“It’s very much my home. One of the first things he said was you can move if you want to, but I don’t want to. There aren’t any places that are one-bedroom round here.”
“I’ve got to go out with someone, if I moved away, I wouldn’t have them. My dad’s already totally blind as well, I’ve got someone who takes me up to see him. I won’t be able to do that, I won’t have the person who takes me up to see him if I had to move. I wouldn’t be at all happy.
“I’ll just have to go on a crash course diet, I’ll just have to cut down. I don’t smoke or anything like that. I’ve got people who help me out, you’ve got to help them, you’ve got to give them petrol money, it’s only fair. I’ll probably end up staying in a bit more.”
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has established a new expert group to sketch out what a welfare system in an independent Scotland might look like.
The group, due to report to Ministers at Holyrood in May, will look at benefit payments, consider changes to the current system in an independent Scotland, and make recommendations for how a welfare system can reflect “ Scottish values”. It will be tasked also with providing assurance on the Scottish Government’s assessment of the cost of the benefit system at the point of independence, as well as its plans for delivering welfare payments in an independent Scotland.
It will also offer views on which aspects of the UK Government’s current reforms to working-age benefits should be an immediate priority for change in an independent Scotland to ensure the welfare system protects the most vulnerable members of Scottish society and supports those who can work with a route into sustained employment.
Membership of the Group will be:
- Darra Singh OBE, currently a director within Ernst & Young’s Government and Public Sector team, and a former Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
- Martyn Evans. Chief Executive of the Carnegie Trust and a former Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland.
- Douglas Griffin, former Director of Finance, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.
- Professor Mike Brewer, Research Fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Professor of Economics at the University of Essex.
In concluding that independence was the only way that Scotland can guarantee a just welfare system, Nicola Sturgeon concluded:
“With a Yes vote in 2014 we would begin work to establish a welfare system that better reflects Scotland’s values and ensures fair and decent support for those that need it most – a system that protects the vulnerable and supports households rather than seeing them be subjected to unfair ideological benefit cuts from Westminster.
“The announcement of the expert group is the first step in the journey towards creating a welfare system which will support the economy and society of an independent Scotland.”
Shadow Scottish Secretary, Margaret Curran however argued that Scotland now found itself trapped between “a UK government that cuts tax credits for working families and a Scottish government that’s prepared to launch another talking shop instead of a real plan to get people back to work now.”