By Lynn Malone
New figures released today show the shocking reality that the Bedroom Tax is hitting the most vulnerable people in Scotland – with the sick and disabled bearing the brunt.
The report is the latest in their “Voices from the Frontline” series from Citizens Advice Scotland, detailing the impact of the UK government’s welfare reforms.
The report uses Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) evidence and official statistics to show the numbers of people hit by the Bedroom Tax, the types of people affected, and the impact it is having on them.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) say the UK government legislation is affecting 82,000 households in Scotland with many forced to move home or face a cut in benefits if they have a ‘spare’ bedroom. A shocking 80 per cent are disabled – with many having had their homes adapted to accommodate their disability.
In the first six months since the measure was introduced in April, 1,600 Scots sought advice on the issue from their local Citizens Advice Bureau.
CAS have seen a 29 per cent increase in the number of Housing Benefit cases, and a 41 per cent increase in the number of people in social housing reporting they are in rent arrears.
Two thirds of Bedroom Tax victims are disabled and a further one in ten is caring for a disabled person. The majority are between 45 and 60, live alone and are too sick to work, according to CAS. The charity’s figures also show only 13 per cent are employed and one in nine is a single parent.
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch says,
“We have now seen over 6 months of the Bedroom Tax, so we have enough evidence to present a real picture of its impact. The first thing that is clear is that the majority of Scots affected are sick and disabled people who were already living on low incomes.
“So, like so many of the recent welfare reforms, this is a measure that is principally hitting the most vulnerable people in our society, making their difficult situations even worse.
“Most of the people we have seen are unable to work for health reasons, so were already living in poverty even before this measure came in.
Ms Lynch explained how many had already seen their income shrink over the last few years because of the harsh changes to disability benefits.
She added: “With the Bedroom Tax, they are now experiencing a further cut of around £11 a week on average.
“The UK government has made an estimated £16.5m available for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) this year in an effort to mitigate the problems. However Shelter Scotland estimates this will only cover 10% of the shortfall in Housing Benefit. DHPs are also designed to be a temporary measure, and so do not offer long-term security.”
The report has raised concerns with leading charity, Capability Scotland.
Their spokesperson said: “Capability Scotland is very concerned about the Under Occupancy Charge or ‘bedroom tax’. Our own report earlier this year showed that many disabled Scots are going without essentials such as food, heating and clothes to make up for the loss in income caused by the ‘bedroom tax’.
“Capability Scotland is also concerned that the local authority money which has already been spent on aids and adaptations could go to waste if disabled people are forced to move out of homes which have been specifically adapted to meet their needs.”
Richie Venton, a prominent campaigner against the controversiaql tax and organiser of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is appalled at what the charity’s figures have unearthed. Mr Venton, who organised an online Petition demanding Labour Party leader Ed Miliband call for the Bedroom Tax to be abolished said:
“These figures are an appalling condemnation of the Tories and LibDems who have imposed the bedroom tax – and who voted to keep it this week despite the public outcry – but also of the ‘Timid Ten’ Scottish Labour MPs who didn’t even bother to show up to vote for its abolition in parliament on 12 November.”
On Tuesday it emerged that a total of 47 Labour MPs failed to turn up for a Commons’ vote, instigated by their own party, calling for the Bedroom tax to be scrapped. Amongst the MPs were ten Scottish Labour MPs including former PM Gordon Brown and current Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Anas Sarwar.
The coalition won the vote by 26 votes.
Mr Venton added: “As we’ve said throughout, this theft of incomes from the poorest, hammers the chronically sick, disabled and most vulnerable – including many who live on their own. It is heartless cruelty to demand disabled people uproot themselves, often from houses that have been adapted for their needs.
“And it’s certainly not ‘scroungers’ like the vicious authors of the Tax try to make us believe: as well as the majority who are simply too sick to work, one in seven of those affected are in low-paid jobs, one in nine cares for their kids on their own, one in ten cares for the disabled.”
Ms Lynch added: “So the Bedroom Tax in reality is having just the impact that many feared it would. It is causing huge distress and pain – principally with people who were already suffering severe hardship. Some people have come into the CAB with eviction notices, in great distress.
“We make a number of recommendations in our report today, and we hope Ministers will look at these. Because the picture we present here is not speculation or guess-work. This law is now here, and the cases we show are real people, whose are facing real distress and poverty.”
Among the recommendations are:
- That severely disabled people who have been assessed as needing their own bed and bedroom due to their condition should be exempt.
- Families where children have been allocated an extra room due to a health condition should be exempt.
- All social landlords should review their allocations policies to ensure that anyone who wants or needs to downsize is able to.
- CAS also recommends that Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) funding from the DWP is continued for those affected.
Richie Venton added: “Mounting rent arrears from people who simply can’t afford to pay must not lead to threats of evictions – as issued by the South Ayrshire Tory-Labour tag team last week.
“The SSP and other anti bedroom tax campaigners will continue to step up our demands that councils, local housing associations and the Scottish government outlaw evictions, and fully fund the guesstimated £53m shortfall in rent, to remove all excuses for eviction threats – and to buy time to mobilize a massive campaign to win back some of the £billions stolen from Scotland by Westminster.
“If anyone needs convincing we’d be better off electing our own government in Scotland, with power over welfare, benefits and the taxation of the rich, surely these heartbreaking figures clinch the argument?”