Bedroom Tax investigated by UN housing watchdog

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  By Lynn Malone

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on housing meets with academics at Glasgow University today to thrash out Westminster’s welfare reform which imposes the hated bedroom tax on vulnerable Scots.

She will assess the impact of the Con-Dem policy which leaves people on low incomes and those with disabilities and terminal illness facing the threat of eviction. Tenants considered to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit cut since the Bedroom Tax was introduced in April with up to 80,000 households in Scotland affected.

The average loss is calculated at £620 per household a year.  Ms Rolnik met tenants affected by the policy as well as officials, campaigners and academics at an earlier visit to Edinburgh.

The UK government say the change tackles an unfair spare room subsidy not available to private-sector renters and suggest it will save around £500m a year as part of their deficit-reduction strategy. But it has resulted in protests with critics claiming the cuts imposed have led to some disabled people in Scotland going without basic essentials such as food, heating and clothes.

A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. There has been controversy over the visit. An official press release from the UN states Ms Rolnik “…visits the country at the invitation of the government.” But reports in the Daily Mail allege she “invited herself” and claim previous UN officials have travelled to the UK to “lecture the government before.” They claim the UN are “meddlers.” Reports suggest the Con-Dems are furious at the inspection.

Jake Berry, Tory MP for Rossendale and Darwen said: “This rapporteur is a self-professed enemy of home ownership and right to buy, and doesn’t represent the views of Britons who want to get on in life” reports the Daily Mail.

But Ms Rolnik isists her decision to visit the UK was prompted because she thought the UK was experiencing a housing crisis and by concern about the impact of welfare changes on the right to adequate housing.

“There is a housing crisis. This is very clear,” she said. “The aim of the visit is to assess the current situation. Of course the bedroom tax and austerity measures and welfare reform as far as they impact on the right to adequate housing is part of our agenda.”

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes housing as part of the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family”.

She added: “The UK has voiced its commitment to human rights on repeated occasions, and this mission will give me an opportunity to assess in-depth to what extent adequate housing, as one central aspect of the right to an adequate standard of living, is at the core of this commitment.

“The UK faces a unique moment, when the challenge to promote and protect the right to adequate housing for all is on the agenda.

“In doing so, special attention would need to be given to responding to the specific situations of various population groups, in particular low-income households and other marginalised individuals and groups.”

The final report will be presented by Ms Rolnik to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.