Wales must stand up to ‘bedroom tax’.

Jamie Insole says Welsh Labour should follow Scotland’s lead on the removal of the spare room subsidy.

In Scotland, no social tenant is evicted for bedroom tax debt. Scottish Government has effectively covered the cost of the bedroom tax since 2013. In Wales, this is significant;

Last Wednesday, I received a call. A tenant was due to be evicted by her social landlord at 10:30 the following morning. Having staved off over 30 similar attempts across South Wales, I knew that time had run out. All the same, we tried but, for the first time ever, ultimately failed.

The corollary of this failure left a vulnerable woman sitting with her dog in what had been her garden. Her daughter, a 17 year old A Level student, had been offered no alternative accommodation and was thus forced to stay with friends. Whereas it would be inappropriate explore her circumstances in any great detail, the tenant had experienced severe illness, a recent bereavement, lost her job and ultimately slipped into the psychological paralysis that accompanies extreme poverty and suffering.

Unfortunately, her landlord took this paralysis as a signal to default on its own duty to protect. At a hearing prior to the eviction, the judge opted to hear the case even though the duty solicitor was not present. This was at the Cardiff Council presenting officers insistence. Efforts to sign-post or refer the tenant to a champion capable of fighting her corner had fallen at the first hurdle due to core funding cuts. So much for mitigation.

With this in mind, I examine the third report of Public Accounts Committee. Whilst the first provided food for thought, criticising ‘lack of progress’ with respect to the 23% of Welsh people living in poverty, the third is a dismally brilliant object lesson in how not to fight a fire.

This report tells a story about a failure to plan, a failure to project and the absence of desegregated data to support either. It describes task groups which whilst established, rarely meet. Information is neither requested nor shared whilst the sector is largely left to its own devices. Only now do we see any effort to coordinate a minimal safety net – the attempt to standardise the allocation of discretionary housing payments across 22 local authorities. We see funds being diverted to high profile bromides (the construction of 300 homes) as opposed to alleviating immediate suffering and converting existing stock. Inconvenient facts such as the escalation in evictions and suspended possession orders are ignored and all is justified under the catch all; “we cannot afford to bare the burden of Westminster legislation if funding is not addressed”.

In all honesty, much of what I read reminds me of the chaos that accompanies the early phase of a disaster relief effort – dislocation, duplication and no forums or processes through which consensus and leadership can emerge. However, this is not Nepal or Sierra Leone and Welsh Government have had four years to crack it.

Rather than doing so, they hunkered down and awaited the election of a UK Labour Government.

So what now? As the funding gap widens; the perfect storm of welfare reform and uncertainty surrounding the implementation of universal credit seems set to paralyse the sector as surely as rent arrears might stun a vulnerable tenant. Already, we see signals indicating a return to the same old expedient: equalise the cost of the social/private rented sector, raise rents to fund repairs and new build, squeeze the tenant as the single unfixed point!

However, even if this strategy was morally sustainable, it cannot work in practise. For two years, the discretionary housing fund has been used to square the circle for those left with the choice of paying money that they do not have or downsizing to properties that do not exist. Topped up by Welsh Government in 2014, many vulnerable tenants would be unable to sustain their homes in it’s absence. Westminster’s plan to cut this budget and share it equally between the social and private sector portends a social train wreck.

As evidence of this, consider the 5136 suspended possession orders in place during 2013/14. Whereas we cannot discern how many of these were affected by the bedroom tax, we can say that all of these tenancies are highly vulnerable – the court has already granted possession to the social landlord and it will require a very small infraction to trigger repossession.

Can we imagine the social and material effect of even 150 evictions across Welsh communities; what of 1500 or 2500?

Scottish Government, under pressure from a radical social movement joined by, amongst others, the Scottish Labour Party, opted to cover the cost of the bedroom tax in 2013. The Public Accounts Committee report recommends; “a cost/benefit analysis of mitigating the full impact of the removal of the spare room subsidy through discretionary housing payments, as the Scottish Government chose to do.”

We all want to see ambition and imagination. Community energy generation; releasing local authority pension funds for a programme of social new build; initiatives that will tackle poverty whilst giving people a stake.

However, we also demand social compassion and the minimal decency.

Most pressingly, Welsh Labour needs to end its prevarication and take tenants out of this hated tax. If it fails in this, not only will it have to live with the dire social consequences but also endure the justified anger that accompanies every contested eviction!

Jamie Insole is an NUJ activist and works to coordinate Cardiff & South Wales Against the Bedroom Tax.

6 thoughts on “Wales must stand up to ‘bedroom tax’.

  1. The cost of having to provide emergency housing after an eviction must outweigh any savings they might think they will make by forcing people to downsize, apart from the cost of the eviction, the cost of driving people to despair resulting in mental health issues, breaking up of communities, and having to move each time there is a change in the family its going to cost far more in the long run.

  2. In February, Carwyn Jones said that it would cost £10 million to follow Scotland’s lead and effectively abolish the bedroom tax and this was unaffordable.

    Welsh government has boasted that it has spent £20-40 million building around 400 homes for people to downsize too. Given that 40,000 households are effected, this is a solution that helps less than 1% of effected people, and it is unjust that poor and disabled people are made to downsize anyway.

    So there you have it Welsh Labour have rejected the cheaper option of ending bedroom tax misery and fear for 100% of effected households in favour of a costly solution helping less than 1%. This mixture of incompetence and inaction and complacency from Carwyn Jones’ leadership is staggering.

  3. Can’t afford £10 million? You would get that by increasing council tax by 0.67 per cent. Any volunteers?

  4. We had a two bedroom bungalow just before the bedroom tax came in. I have several sleep disorders which make it uncomfortable at best but outright dangerous at worst for me to sleep in the same bed as my husband. In effect I could do him serious harm in my sleep as i act out my dreams. After many phone calls to non-caring “civil” servants we had to move into a tiny one bed bungalow and I now sleep on the floor in the living room to keep my husband safe. He can’t sleep there as he has several health problems and wouldn’t be able to get up again. I have to prop myself up with my zimmer before I can get up. I have medical evidence to support my health claims but they wouldn’t even look.

  5. A bedroom tax when there isn’t sufficient housing to move those that can to smaller housing and forces those that need an extra bedroom for medical conditions to move is immoral. It is also as Pamela says a complete false economy in the medium and long term. If it is indeed going to cost £10Million per annum to prop up the difference then it should be found in what is a wasteful Wales governmental budget. How many civil service staff in Wales earn well over the odds for their responsibility level and competence. How many council employees in Wales are earning £90K – £100K. This is affecting 40,000 households. That’s over 3% of all households in Wales. It will cause much hardship.

  6. The bedroom tax and indeed all the disgraceful attacks on the vulnerable of this country by the perverted policies of Ian Duncan Smith and the stigmatisation of the disabled, is frankly what the tories said they would do if in office. However Labour have a lot to answer for! It was they who started this attack on the most needy and vulnerable in tis country when the incompetant Brown was prime minister. He brought in Atos and the likes of them. But lets look at Welsh Labour. Cardiff council in common with all the other councils are regularly selling unpayable council tax debt built up by these most vulnerable of our citizens, to unscrupulous debt collectors. I know this because i have regularly interceded in cases to try to assist these unfortunate people. Brilliant organisations such as Shelter Cymru have been massively overstreched in trying to assist them also. But what does the debt ridden labour council of cardiff do? They spend £3m on wheelie bins which are basically just a dustbin on wheels and recycle nothing. Who asked for these bins no one did, why are they doing it to support the multi national incinerator company which they are also giving £10m of tax payers money too on a massively flawed waste plan. Which is about to burn nuclear waste. This money could well have been used to support our most needy citizens. It was a labour assembly that hiked it all up just before the financial crash expecting england and scotland to follow, which they did not. Only two years ago the labour assembly under Carwen Jones hiked it up yet again, and it seems to be their answer for everything when they run out of others peoples money to spend on their disasterous schemes. So the labour party are now effectively the party of pollution and the party of big business, but hey lets make sure they get a pay rise after all joe public the cash cow paying public will be made to cough up what we need when we need it. That labour icon Sir Stafford Cripps once remarked that he spent a lot of his time trying to get the labour party off the backs of the working class. How right he was.

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