By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
The UK government’s bedroom tax policy has been branded “inhumane” by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee amid demands that Westminster either abolish the tax or give Scotland the power to do so north of the border.
An investigation by the committee concluded that the bedroom tax could be breaching tenants’ human rights as well as placing a strain on local authorities struggling to deal with the fallout of the Westminster policy, which was introduced in April last year.
Around 82,000 households in Scotland have been hit by the tax with an estimated 80 per cent of those housing a disabled adult. An estimated 15,500 households affected have children in them. The committee lambasted Westminster for implementing a policy that may actually result in a higher bill for taxpayers while families struggle on the breadline.
Convener of the committee, Michael McMahon MSP, said: “The Bedroom Tax remains bad law. Treating people’s homes only as bricks and mortar, homes of around 65,000 disabled people and 15,000 homes with children, is simply not acceptable in this day and age.
“Smaller properties just aren’t available because we spent years developing our housing stock to offer homes people could grow their families in, so they could set down roots and establish communities. The reality for many is they cannot pay, and they cannot move.”
He added: “And to make the situation even more frustrating, it is entirely possible it is costing the public purse more to implement than it is saving. The only conclusion the majority of the Committee could come to, when faced with the evidence and research we have seen, is to call for the UK Government to abolish the Bedroom Tax with immediate effect. And if they won’t do that, to give the Scottish Parliament the powers and resources to do so.”
Westminster has given no indication that Scotland will ever be given any such powers, nor has the UK government shown any sign of reversing the policy.
Deputy committee convener Jamie Hepburn MSP said that the Bedroom Tax was having a “real and harmful” effect particularly on the most vulnerable members of society, adding that it was “highly unlikely” to be making any savings for the public purse.
Linda Fabiani MSP, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, argued that Scotland’s only real chance of getting rid of the Bedroom Tax would come with independence from Westminster: “Today’s report is a landmark intervention that makes clear that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to step in where Westminster has failed – something that only a Yes vote can deliver,” she said.
“The Committee has heard harrowing evidence of just how unfair the Bedroom Tax is and the case for its abolition is surely now unanswerable. It must be abolished and Scotland’s Parliament must have the powers to do just that.”
Ms Fabiani went on to criticise Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, who referred to the powers that would give the Scottish Parliament the ability to abolish the Bedroom Tax as “wee things” during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.
“The Bedroom Tax is no ‘wee thing’ for the thousands of households across Scotland who are struggling every day to make ends meet,” she said. “They need the action that only a Yes vote will enable us to deliver – not to have their struggles simply dismissed as Johann Lamont did yesterday.
“A Yes vote means that we can use the powers of an independent Scotland to abolish the hated Bedroom Tax within the first year of independence. By taking responsibility for our own tax and welfare decisions we will be able to build the fairer, more prosperous Scotland that we all want to live in.”
The Bedroom Tax has been widely criticised and strongly condemned by campaigners and organisations representing vulnerable members of society since its implementation.
In November, a woman from Pollok became the first person to be evicted from a home in Scotland after arrears accumulated by the Bedroom Tax, along with her teenage son. However, following an outcry from Bedroom Tax protesters Glasgow Housing Association backtracked on the decision and offered the young widow a new tenancy agreement.
In May last year, a 53-year-old mum of two, Stephanie Bottril – who suffered from an auto-immune system deficiency illness – took her own life and left a note blaming the government. After the Bedroom Tax hit, Ms Bottril told neighbours she “couldn’t afford to live anymore”.