How many rooms? – a taxing issue
An apparent anomaly
On the face of it does seem strange that up until now one could get housing benefit for social housing, based on the number of bedrooms in your house, but neither based on how many beneficiaries there were nor what there needs were.
The UK Government has therefore put argued that people are living in houses in excess of their needs and thereby contributing to the waiting list for social housing. Consequently they are reducing housing benefits for those who are deemed to have bedrooms surplus to their requirements. Even though the availability of alternative accommodation, family needs, nor capacity to pay (for the reduction in benefits) have been taken adequately into account, market economics are now expected to force supposedly “equitable” change through reduction in benefits? See http://www.housing.org.uk/policy/welfare-reform/bedroom-tax. Ouch! How brutal is this?
Are we counting the cost?
What will be the personal cost be to individuals in terms of health and state of mind? See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-22500009 . Will the cost of this bureaucratic device be even greater for the Government in the long run, as other services attempt to pick up the pieces? As a tacit admission of the brutality of such a strategy it seems that discretionary payments have been cited as “the answer”, yet these are time limited, do not match the realities associated with people’s circumstances and do not take account of the time it takes for people to get accommodation appropriate to their needs!
Failing to account for need
Let us not forget that amidst the people that have need of social housing are some of the most vulnerable people and families. These include disabled people who often have need of extra space because of their needs, who are waiting a long time to be rehoused (or have already been rehoused because of their needs), for whom getting work is often extremely difficult, who can easily become isolated and whose family members save the Government huge amounts of money through unpaid care! In return these very people are made to feel like they are scroungers and frequently have to battle to get their needs taken seriously.
The opposing theme to the benefit changes is the lack of adequate housing provision for disabled people. It has long been known that waiting times for appropriate accommodation for disabled people are very long. This was the subject of research that Duo Fu was undertaking at Habinteg:: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=119801298&locale=en_US&trk=tyah.
Adequacy of provision?
Meanwhile, adaptable general needs housing whilst advantageous for some, is insufficient for others. The Lifetime Homes Standard http://www.lifetimehomes.org.uk/ and the recently published BS 9266: 2013 – Design of accessible and adaptable general needs housing – Code of practice, http://shop.bsigroup.com/en/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030230431 go some way to providing guidance on a level of provision, but there is a pressing need to bring full wheelchair user housing guidance into the public domain and for a percentage of housing stock to be capable of adaptation to full wheelchair user standards. Such guidance should cover the need for additional bedrooms for carers and family members. The Habinteg publication, the Wheelchair Housing Design Guide http://www.habinteg.org.uk/main.cfm?type=WCHDG, whilst valuable is dated and has not got the status of a British Standard. Where is the Government’s proactive attention to its legal duties under the Public Sector Equality Duty? Why is it that many people are still trapped in their own homes with inadequate facilities?
Taxation of surplus?
Whilst the change in housing benefit policy is presented as addressing an apparent anomaly, its effect is equivalent to the poll tax, in that it does not take adequate account of people’s ability to pay for apparently extra bedrooms in their home and the other factors that make moving neither straightforward nor appropriate. Meanwhile how many ministers and similarly privileged persons have a surplus of bedrooms and even houses? Isn’t it curious that owners of very large and multiple premises are not being asked to contribute for the privilege of having space surplus to their requirements? Why isn’t there a mansion tax or are the opponents of such a contribution considered too powerful? Weren’t we told that “we are all in this together” or, after all that has been said are in reality some in society “more equal than others”?