Two boys from a family facing the Bedroom tax tell the TUC's 2013 Austerity Uncovered tour their thoughts about it
Bedroom Tax – hurting just like we said it would
This was MPs’ last day before the holidays and the department for Work and Pensions celebrated by publishing fourteen – count them – reports, releases and statements. In this take out the trash glut you might be forgiven for missing the excitingly titled Evaluation of Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy: Final Report. [For those of us with long memories, this is increasingly reminiscent of the final days of the Poll Tax, when Conservative Ministers were ever more shrill as they insisted that anyone they could bully mustn’t call it that, but instead use the government-approved phrase “Community Charge”.]
It’s the official evaluation of the Bedroom Tax and it’s based on research carried out in October and November 2014 and the same months in 2014. By far the most important finding is that it’s causing real hardship. 43 per cent of the people affected had rent arrears in March 2013, before the introduction of this ‘reform’ (suggesting that they were already pretty vulnerable); by autumn 2014, this had risen to 55 per cent. If you turn to table 3.1 of the report, you’ll see that 57 per cent of the people affected by the Bedroom Tax had had to cut back on spending on essentials. Other figures give the impression of people using up their resources:
- 29 per cent had applied for Discretionary Housing Payments
- 25 per cent had borrowed from friends or family
- 13 per cent had been given gifts by friends or family
- 14 per cent had run down savings
- 7 per cent had borrowed from lenders like payday loan companies
- 5 per cent had run up credit card debts
None of these are renewable resources – they’ll all run out eventually. These people can see that too; they must worry terribly.
When they announced the Bedroom Tax, the government said that people would cope by moving to smaller homes or getting jobs. The number of people affected did fall – by a sixth – between the 2013 and 2014 studies, but no more than a third of this fall was for these reasons (20 per cent got jobs or increased their earnings, 12 per cent moved to smaller places).
Over half of this reduction in numbers had nothing to do with any incentive effect. Five per cent of the people who stopped being affected by the Bedroom Tax simply reached pension age. And 46 per cent of those who stopped facing the Bedroom Tax did so because of “household change” – a friend or relative moved in, they had a new baby or one of the children reached an age where they qualified for their own room.
When the Bedroom Tax was being debated a lot of the discussion was about older parents whose children had moved out, so it was assumed that this was one cut that wouldn’t hit children. This report proves that wrong: over a quarter (27.7 per cent) of the families hit by the Bedroom Tax have got children and more than 200,000 children live in these families (calculated from table 2.7).
So we can add the Bedroom Tax to the list of cuts that target children.