So public and political pressure does work, even against this government. You can always tell when a Minister’s in trouble – they get irritable and tetchy, as Duncan Smith has been over the last several days. Just 3 weeks before the hated bedroom tax comes into force, he has been forced to make some concessions.
He has just announced that foster carers (as ong as they have fostered a child or become a registered carer within the past 12 months) and parents of teenage military personnel (living at home but away on military operations) will be exempted. He has also said that discretionary payments should be available to support those whose homes have had significant disability adaptations and those with long-term medical conditions “that create difficulties” in sharing a bedroom. But for the DWP and someone like IDS, that careful wording provides lots of caveats if official decide to apply them.
Even however if there is a generous interpretation of these exceptions, they will exclude only a minor fraction of the 660,000 afflicted by this tax. There is still no guarantee that disabled children will be protected. And the extreme hardline attitude of Ministers is revealed by the case of the Gorry family in May last year. They had one child with spina bifida and another had Down’s Syndrome, and argued that they could not be expected to share a room so that they needed housing benefit for an additional bedroom. The DWP rejected their claim, but the Court of Appeal ruled that official guidance had unlawfully discriminated against them. The government still refused to back down, and took the case to the Supreme Court to try to deny this additonal housing benefit for the family. However public pressure again prevailed and the government abandoned its appeal. But it exposes the extreme lengths to which IDS and the government are prepared to go to enforce a preposterously unfair tax even when the courts have struck it down.
Nevertheless the government is still pushing ahead with a whole range of new and big benefit cuts in 3 weeks time. Working tax credit is being frozen, which will mean a loss for those working under 30 hours of £303 a year and £428 for those working over 30 hours. Benefits and tax credits will in future be increased according to CPi, not RPI, so households will lose out by about 3% of all benefits, up to around £150 a year.
On the bedroom tax itself, the 540,000 households with 1 spare bedroom will lose 14% of current benefit or £624 a year while those with 2 spare bedrooms (including one of my constituents with a boxroom measuring 8ft by 8ft) will lose £1,144. Council tax benefit is being cut so that up to 2.5 million recipients not in employment will lose up to £250 a year and about 700,000 recipients in employment will lose up to £600. And community care grants and crisis loans are being abolished, and there is no ring-fenced funding devolved to Councils.
I hope, IDS, you’re pleased with all this and that you never have to depend on benefit.