The latest data from 107 local authorities shows that 86,000 households have now been forced out of their accommodation to look for 1-bedroom homes, but only 33,000 have become available in the past year. The pressure points vary regionally. In Rochford, Essex, for example, 100 social housing tenants were driven out by the benefit cuts, but only 5 one-bedroom properties had become vacant in the previous year.
Gloucester council said, by contrast, that 111 one-bedroom properties had been available in the past year, but nearly 500 households needed them because of the bedroom tax. Another example, Inverclyde in Scotland, said 1,100 households would need to move into 1-bedroom homes, but only 96 had been free to rent last year. This means that in these 3 areas alone 95%, 80% and 91% of those families driven out of their homes were unable, however hard they tried, to find locally the smaller accommodation they were required to move into.
None of this is unexpected by the government. They planned it and pushed it through knowing exactly what the results would be. Their own impact assessment last summer acknowledged that 35% of claimants subject to the bedroom tax “would be quite or very likely to fall into arrears if their housing benefit were to be reduced”. They also predicted that about 660,000 tenants would be hit by this tax. That’s one in five of all social housing tenants.
And the tax is notoriously confined to social housing tenants, not to private tenants or owner-occupiers, though if the Tories’ rationale for the tax is the need to adjust to housing shortage – caused by the slump in housebuilding due to the Tory-imposed austerity – it would be logical to apply an under-occupation levy in all housing sectors. But of course this bedroom tax is not driven by logic, but by spite and hostility to Council housing. It has nothing to do with cutting the budget deficit because the government’s own estimate of the £460m reduction in housing benefit amounts to a saving of precisely 0.05% of total benefit expenditure (two-thirds of which goes to pensioners).
IDS, the proponent of this tax, has told us he could live on job seeker’s allowance of £71 a week – though he’s never proved it by actually doing it. Would he however like to try living on £2.53 a day? Mary, who lives in Bishop Auckland, gets employment support allowance in an area of high unemployment. Out of her benefit of £71.70 a week, she pays £10 a week for electricity and £6 a week for water rates.
She uses coal for heating like most people in Bishop Auckland, and 3 bags cost her £19.50 a week. Her bus fare if £4 a week, and she will now have to pay £9.24 a week in bedroom tax. That leaves her with £22.96 a week, and after buying necessary cleaning and sanitary products, all she is left with is £17.71 for food, which works out at £2.53 a day. Like to volunteer to do a week (let alone every week in the next year or years) on that, IDS?